AIM: start

SUN, 29 APR 2001 01:45:21 GMT

Dualism and Nervousness in Relations Between Tirana and Skoplje

AIM Tirana, April 20, 2001

On April 12, the same date when Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgijevski asked the Albanian Government to help by interceding with the Albanian political parties in Macedonia to agree to form a broadly-based coalition Government with two main Macedonian parties, the spokesman for the Macedonian Government, Antonio Milosovski openly criticised the Albanian Government for mistakes committed in the population census conducted in Albania in April. According to him it was intended to prevent the determination of the exact number of members of the Macedonian minority in Albania, which is officially about 5 thousand persons. According to the latest statements of the Skoplje officials, there are 300 thousand Albanians in Macedonia, a figure that Tirana considers absurd. This game with figures actually symbolises the state of complex relations between Albania and Macedonia, which is characterised by dualism, more internal than public one, and certain nervousness that has additionally increased during the latest Macedonian crisis.

The Albanian Government was among the first to side with the Macedonian Government in its problems with the armed Albanian guerrilla fighters who appeared with "UCK" insignia (NLA-National Liberation Army) near Tetovo. The Albanian leaders strongly condemned the violence and extremism of their fellow-countrymen and supported the sovereignty of the Macedonian state. Tirana's support was so unequivocal that it was positively assessed not only by leaders of the European Union and NATO, but also by Macedonia's Prime Minister Georgijevski, President Trajkovski and Foreign Minister Kerim, who publicly thanked the Albanian Government for the support extended.

Nevertheless, Tirana and Skoplje had diametrically opposite stand regarding the roots of the latest crisis in Macedonia. While during the entire crisis the Macedonian leadership insisted that events on hills around Tetovo were nothing else but an armed aggression, which came from Kosovo, Albania's leadership, maintained that the crisis was a result of internal developments and accumulated problems because the Macedonian Government failed to adequately resolve the inter-ethnic relations.

Actually, despite the harsh condemnation of the Albanian guerrilla fighters in Macedonia by the European Union, NATO, OSCE and Western countries, they were practically unanimous in suggesting that an internal dialogue should be opened between the Macedonian Government and the Albanian political parties with a view to discussing problems of inter-ethnic relations and demands of the local Albanian population, which materialised with the initiation of a dialogue under President Trajkovski's presidency.

At the time when the conflict in Tetovo was placed under control and the inter-ethnic dialogue between the Macedonian Government and Albanian political parties was initiated, Skoplje addressed several accusations against Tirana for allowing the entry of armed groups of the National Liberation Army, which is operating in Macedonia. On April 4, one of the front men of the Macedonian Ministry of the Interior, Deputy Minister Ljuben Boskovski said that a group of 50 armed persons wearing NLA uniforms entered Macedonia from Albania near Debar, contacted local people so as to recruit and mobilise them and then returned to Albania. The Macedonian media amplified this accusation even more by stating that 14 military training camps for 4,500 soldiers of the so-called NLA had been built in Albania. In addition, information was published that a new hotbeds of tension were developing in this border zone, but the Albanian Ministry of Order and the Albanian Prime Minister immediately denied and rejected these accusations both regarding the camps, as well as armed groups crossing the border between two countries.

Trying to convince the international community that it had nothing to do with the creation of tensions at its border with Macedonia, the Albanian Government officially asked NATO to send its mission in order to help control and supervise the border between Albania and Macedonia. The North Atlantic Alliance positively answered to this request. Apart from that, on April 12 the Minister of the Interior, the Defence Minister and President of the Albanian National Information Service together organised a meeting with the military attaches accredited in Albania so as to assure the international community of strong control measures undertaken by the Albanian Army on the border, which sent more than 100 military commandos to the Debar prefecture as reinforcement to the border police forces.

Diplomatic and international missions present in Tirana do not rule out a possibility that criminal trade in arms might revive between these two countries and, in order to confirm this, on April 14 in Librazde, the Albanian police forces arrested two young Kosovars transporting 5 guns, one mortar and one pistol towards Macedonian border. However, the international mission in the Albanian capital seem to be inclined to believe that the Albanian Government is not officially involved with the guerrilla groups operating in Macedonia.

The increasing nervousness, which has been characteristic of the Albanian-Macedonian relations during the latest crisis, has been demonstrated in one more way. According to confidential sources here in Tirana, on March 31 the Foreign Ministry of Macedonia sent a note of protest to Albania because of what it qualified as "border incident" which, according to it, concerned the violation of the Macedonian airspace by a KFOR helicopter coming from Albania. The Macedonian side sent its note of protest on the day of the alleged event, although it admitted that the KFOR mission with the Macedonian Defence Ministry claimed that no KFOR helicopter had flown that day on the airline between two countries. The Command of KFOR forces deployed in Albania in the city of Durrese also denied that there had been any such flight. In its reply to the note, Tirana rejected the Macedonian protest as unfounded, as well as all claims that the KFOR helicopter had been a cause of a border incident between the two countries.

Implicating the KFOR in bilateral relations represents a new element, but it seems that precisely that name has forced both sides not to publicise their official protests and counter-protests concerning this event.

AIM Tirana

Arjan LEKA