AIM: start

TUE, 07 AUG 2001 00:49:02 GMT

Is Macedonian Crisis Moving Towards the Albanian Border?

AIM Tirana, July 26, 2001

No one in important offices in Tirana, whom the AIM contacted, knew whether a Macedonian note of protest had truly been sent to the Albanian Government, which the spokesman for the Macedonian Defence Ministry, Marjan Djurovski mentioned on July 23. According to the mentioned spokesman, the Macedonian protest concerned incidents that happened lately on the border with Albania between Macedonian police forces and armed Albanian groups, which according to the Macedonian Defence Ministry came from Albania. On July 23, the representative of the Macedonian Military addressed the harshest statement to Albania since the start of the armed conflict in Macedonia between Government forces and Albanian guerrillas. He said that Albania's interference in the crisis and support to terrorists would spread the war crisis to the entire region after which it would turn to an undesired direction.

This was the first time that Skoplje pointed to a form of Albania's interference in the internal Macedonian conflict. Actually, the possibility of intentional or unintentional interference of Albania in this conflict, which placed Macedonians and Albanians in Macedonia on the opposite sides, was the topic of constant discussions in diplomatic and political circles in the Albanian capital. But, what at the very beginning ruled out every such hypothesis was a clear and decisive stand of the Albanian Government similarly intoned as those coming from the West condemning armed actions of the Albanian guerrilla and supporting the Macedonian sovereignty. In his speech of July 21 in the Albanian Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister Meta reiterated that Albania couldn't and wouldn't become a party in the delicate Macedonian crisis because it could not add fuel to the fire that might spread to the entire South-East Europe. The international community always responded favourably to such a stand. Recently, in their letters addressed to the Albanian Prime Minister, Ilir Meta, the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, and British Prime Minister Tonny Blair welcomed the special approach of the Albanian Government towards the Macedonian crisis.

Actually, the Tirana officials exercised great caution so as to avoid any possibility of Albania being accused of interference. Albania not only tightened the border control, but from the very start of the crisis officially asked NATO to send teams and equipment for the control of the Albanian border with Macedonia. This produced results.

After inspecting the Albanian borders on July 17, Chief of the OSCE Mission to Albania, Ambassador G.Ahrens stated that the international community fully supported the position of the Albanian Government towards the Macedonian crisis and that along the Macedonian borders (where OSCE has its local offices in Peshkopia, Korei, Elbasani) not one armed group has crossed from Albania to the other side.

It seems that this fact and assessments of the international community contributed that Tirana remained reserved and did not react to occasional statements of the Macedonian Ministry of the Interior on incursions of armed groups from the Albanian territory.

In that context, the Albanian Government did not react to a harsh statement of the spokesman for the Macedonian Defence Ministry of July 23. Actually, it responded to these allegations indirectly in a statement of the spokesman for the Albanian Government of July 24, which underlined that in cooperation with the NATO, the Government would intensify its efforts aimed at protecting the borders and fighting against every attempt of illegal arms trade over the territory of Albania.

Actually, the Tirana officials managed to avoid any kind of incident that could create an impression of Albania's involvement with or tolerance towards the guerrilla fighters. The Albanian police imposed a tight blockade which made transportation of arms from Albania by any means practically impossible. In two instances when some Albanians from Macedonia attempted to carry over illegal arms, the Albanian police arrested the perpetrators.

It should be noted that the fact that the guerrilla fighters are Albanians and that the Albanian parties in Macedonia demand the improvement of the rights of the Albanian population in Macedonia, have placed the official Tirana in an unenviable position. It is under the pressure of both the public and political circles who demand radicalisation of its position towards Skoplje, whereas this week two main Albanian dailies have criticised the Government for its lenient stand towards Skoplje. Although for a month now - from June 24 to July 29 - Albanian is in a process of extended parliamentary elections, it has successfully avoided the Macedonian crisis as the main topic of the pre-election debate. This was also the result of the stand of the main opposition party which also took great care so as not to mention the Macedonian crisis in its criticism of the Government.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that Albania is and can create different problems on the border, which can easily turn into incidents. Such were the cases of the harassment of the Albanian citizens who travelled to Macedonia. According to the sources in the Albanian police, in two months alone (June-July), the Macedonian police authorities sent back 51 Albanian passengers, some of whom had been harshly abused. But, despite these cases, the Albanian Government did not follow the example of the US and some European Governments, which warned their nationals not to travel to Macedonia. This is an indicator that Tirana is trying hard to avoid every gesture that Skoplje could construe as hostile.

What strikes the eye in raising the temperature between Tirana and Skoplje is the fact that accusations and statements on various forms of Albania's interference in the Macedonian crisis come from the military and police officials (so far, Ministries of Defence and Internal Affairs have always been the source of such statements), while the Macedonian Foreign Ministry never made known its stand regarding these allegations of the police and army departments. Tirana explains this with different factions within the Macedonian leadership. It seems that the advocates of the settlement of the Macedonian crisis by military means and the hard-liners are interested in creating tensions at Macedonian borders, especially at those with Albania. That is probably why important Government offices in Tirana do not know where is the note of protest of the Macedonian Defence Ministry and whether it exists at all.

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