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17, May-2001.

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Thursday.

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Saxe-Coburg reveals Bulgarias future.

Sofia Echo

By Annie Rusinova

Bulgarias only priority is European Union and NATO accession, said Simeon Saxe-Coburg in Paris last Thursday.

Saxe-Coburg, who was delivering a lecture at the French Institute for International Relations, said accession could be accelerated, provided there was a broad coalition government based on broad national consensus.

The lecture was organised by the Association for the Preparation of the France-Bulgaria Foundation, at whose invitation Bulgarias exiled monarch was paying a visit. Former French ambassador to Bulgaria Jean-Marie Daillet and Bulgarian-born lawyer Ivan Panev, who lives in France, co-founded the association.

During his lecture Saxe-Coburg reviewed the main problems facing Bulgaria. He drew a parallel to the countrys situation in 1901, when financing was also needed for major infrastructure projects, and the Bulgarian people were able to freely exercise their voting rights. He noted that only through EU assistance could the infrastructure projects be completed quickly.

The exiled monarch stressed the need for Bulgaria to display a new image on the international stage and, therefore, not evoke associations with a Balkan state, with all the problems associated with the region. Bulgaria is the most stable country in the region at the moment, and is not involved in conflicts with any of its neighbours, he said.

In regards to his political programme, Saxe-Coburg said he could not reveal any details as his party was in the middle of a registration procedure. He explained he was relying on professionals and experts for the preparation of the details of his programme. The issue of Bulgaria reverting to a monarchy was not relevant at the moment, he added.

Although the deadline for the registration of all nomination lists with the CEC was yesterday, by Wednesday Saxe-Coburgs coalition had not officially announced its candidate lists. Saxe-Coburg himself will not be an MP candidate.

Stability Pact and Bulgaria friends again.

Sofia Echo

THE special co-ordinator of the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe, Bodo Hombach, said in a broadcast on the Bulgarian National Television late on Thursday that he was optimistic about the Stability Pact and about Bulgarias place in it.

Last week top Bulgarian officials said the pact needed revising and Hombach said he was getting mixed signals from the country.

Hombach agreed that big pact projects in Bulgaria, like the second bridge over the Danube, have indeed been delayed but he attributed that to bureaucracy rather than lack of funds.

The exchange of criticism between the pact and Bulgaria was actually cathartic and we are now looking in the same direction.

NATO Chief Likens Albanian Rebels to Iraq's Saddam.

Reuters

TIRANA, May 17 (Reuters) - NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson accused ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Macedonia on Thursday of using innocent civilians as "human shields" as Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein did in the Gulf War. On a visit to Albania, he declared that NATO forces would "aggressively cleanse" the border between Macedonia and the UN-run province of Kosovo and said the NATO alliance was considering taking control of the border between Albania and Macedonia.

While calling on the Macedonian government to use restraint in dealing with the rebels, he accused the guerrillas of using civilians for military purposes against international law and the international rules of war. "I call on them to stop and leave civilians out of this conflict," he told a news conference. Speaking at a separate function, Robertson likened the methods of the guerrillas to those used by Saddam Hussein and fallen Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. "These people continue to use civilians as human shields, just like Saddam did," Robertson said, adding that Milosevic had done the same.

A Macedonian government ultimatum to the rebels to withdraw from their strongholds or face attack expired at noon local time on Thursday without reports of violence. Macedonian sources said the deadline might be extended to give civilians more time to flee.

NATO TEAM DISCUSSING ALBANIAN BORDER Ethnic Albanian guerrillas launched an insurgency in Macedonia two months ago, saying they are fighting for equal rights for the ethnic Albanian minority, who make up around one third of Macedonia's population of two million people. But their actions have been strongly condemned by Western powers, who fear another Balkan war. Robertson said a NATO team was in Tirana discussing the issue of policing the Albanian-Macedonian border. "NATO and the Albanian government have a common interest in making sure that the borders with FYROM (former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) be as safe and sealed as they possibly can," he said.

Describing the guerrillas as "armed extremists" who had no democratic mandate, he said: "They should give up their arms." Macedonia's new national unity government, which includes the two main Albanian political parties, had a mandate to fight the extremists and could rely on international solidarity.

Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta echoed Robertson's call for the rebels to withdraw from their strongholds and give the new government time to deal with ethnic Albanian grievances. He also suggested an amnesty for some Albanians taken prisoner by Macedonian forces. "I think it would help this process to launch an amnesty for all those persons that were involved in this wave of extremism, but did not commit crimes," Meta said.

Rebels in Macedonia fire at government forces, despite weapons deadline.

Associated Press

By Aleksandar Vasovic, Associated Press, 5/17/2001 08:29
SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) Clashes blamed on ethnic Albanian rebels erupted Thursday in the hours before a government-imposed deadline expired, suggesting that the insurgents were planning to fight on despite threats of a massive counterattack.

President Boris Trajkovski had urged the rebels to lay down their weapons by noon Thursday. Front lines were quiet as the deadline passed, and civilians were seen fleeing the area.

But there were indications the rebels would not heed the government demand. The militants opened fire early Thursday at government units from the northern villages of Slupcane and Opae, close to Kumanovo, Army Col. Blagoja Markovski said.

''The terrorists fired at our forces with mortars, machine guns and automatic weapons,'' Markovski told The Associated Press. ''We responded adequately with our artillery.''

The clashes were the most serious attacks since the fighting began two weeks ago in the region bordering the Serb province of Kosovo, he said.

Late Wednesday night, some 750 ethnic Albanians left Opae by foot for Nikustak and Aracinovo, near the capital, Skopje, government spokesman Antonio Milososki said.

Just minutes before the noon deadline, 10 young ethnic Albanian men from the village of Otlja turned up at army positions saying civilians wanted to leave but were afraid to pass rebel checkpoints, a government source said on condition of anonymity.

The militants want Macedonia's constitution rewritten to upgrade the minority status of ethnic Albanians, who make up about a third of Macedonia's 2 million people. The Slav-dominated leadership rejects that demand, arguing that it would lead to a division of the country.

All major political parties, including ethnic Albanian ones, joined a national unity government Sunday, hoping to find a political solution. On Tuesday, the country's new Cabinet set ''the final deadline'' for the rebels to lay down their arms, pledging to ''eliminate'' them if they did not comply.

Trajkovski said a nonviolent solution to Albanian demands for more rights in Macedonia required ''patience, tolerance, determination and readiness to compromise.''

The ''horrifying alternative,'' he said on state television, was a ''divided society in whirlwind of war.''

International officials fear fighting in Macedonia could engulf the whole region. A European Union team head by Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh returned to Macedonia on Wednesday to find ways to prevent further fighting.

Lindh said the fact parties' ability to unite in a joint government ''sends a clear message: that the armed thugs who are trying to destroy the country are isolated.'' She urged restraint in any military move against the rebels.

Another senior EU official, Chris Patten, said the insurgents' goals were more ''criminal than political.''

Macedonia Truce Extended As Rebel Desertions Rise.

Reuters

By Douglas Hamilton

SKOPJE (Reuters) - A noon deadline for ethnic Albanian guerrillas to quit rebel-occupied villages passed on Thursday with Macedonia promising to observe an indefinite truce in its confrontation with ethnic Albanian gunmen.

Along with reports of desertions from the rebel movement in adjacent Serbia, the pause spurred cautious hopes that the widely-condemned ethnic Albanian insurgency which threatens a new Balkan conflict might yet be contained without a bloodbath.

The guerrillas this week found themselves fighting two armies on two adjacent fronts -- the Serbs in the Presevo Valley of southern Yugoslavia and the Macedonians west of the town of Kumanovo.

At their backs is a strong, unsympathetic NATO (news - web sites) force in Kosovo urging the rebels to drop a pointless cause and surrender. The NATO troops will stop them crossing to what they may see as a more promising theater of war in Macedonia, NATO chief George Robertson said.

In an official statement, Macedonia's President Boris Trajkovski said on Thursday the current cease-fire was producing results, as civilians left villages in the conflict zone.

In a ``last appeal'' on Wednesday, Trajkovski urged civilians and guerrillas to leave or face ``decisive action.'' Postponing the assault should not be viewed as hesitancy, he warned.

PRESSURE TO GO SOFTLY

Macedonia is under intense international pressure to avoid a frontal tank assault that would almost certainly inflict civilian casualties. But at home it faces demands from the Slav majority to stamp out Albanian ``terrorism.''

Military sources also noted there was an obvious risk of some violent action by rebels determined to break the truce.

``We have analyzed the situation in the conflict zone near Kumanovo and we believe that the cease-fire is producing results,'' the Macedonian leader said.

``A significant amount of villagers have left their homes in some areas and others are preparing to do the same.

``It should be clear that we will not allow the terrorists to grab part of the territory of Macedonia. They should lay down their weapons because they will not win,'' Trajkovski added.

Government sources said 1,500 villagers had left the crisis zone, though it was not clear how many had decided to quit the main rebel-held villages, where several thousand are thought to be hunkered down after two weeks of army bombardment.

Macedonia and NATO have accused the rebels of holding them as human shields, but some also support the guerrillas, others fear the army and police, and many may simply not wish to leave.

``These people you're seeing on the roads now are from other villages who are afraid of the guerrillas moving in on them next and getting involved,'' said a diplomatic source.

QUITTING A FAILING CAUSE?

In Kosovo, NATO peacekeepers reported on Thursday that 125 ethnic Albanian fighters had ditched their guns and crossed the boundary from southern Serbia into NATO custody. Serbian forces said 108 men had surrendered to their Presevo authorities.

But rebels attacked again near Kosovo on Thursday, killing a Yugoslav soldier and wounding five others northwest of Vranje.

About 3,000 ethnic Albanian civilians have fled the area since Sunday, when fighting erupted in Oraovica. Serb commandos cleared guerrillas from the village on Tuesday in what looked like a textbook counter-insurgency operation.

The NATO peace force in Kosovo was passing out leaflets at its boundary checkpoints with Serbia bearing the image of crouching guerrilla, and asking: ``Aren't you tired of this?''

They invite rebels to quit before May 24 when Serb forces are due take over the buffer zone from NATO.

Military analysts said there was clearly a possibility that diehards from Serbia could join the National Liberation Army in Macedonia if they became convinced that Macedonia's small, inexperienced forces would present the easier target.

The army said there had been constant exchanges of fire overnight around the villages of Slupcane, Orizare and Opaje.

A guerrilla source confirmed the fighting, saying the big village of Lipkovo, whose population has been swollen by displaced locals, had been shelled for the first time.

Villagers on move, Macedonian offensive on hold.

Reuters

By Douglas Hamilton

SKOPJE, May 17 (Reuters) - Hundreds of ethnic Albanian civilians quit rebel-held villages in northern Macedonia overnight, but the threat of an all-out army assault after the expiry of a Thursday noon (1000 GMT) deadline receded.

Macedonian government and Western diplomatic sources said the movement of civilians and the wish to avoid casualties meant a full-scale tank and infantry offensive against ethnic Albanian guerrilla strongholds was unlikely for now.

A Reuters photographer saw four tractors with trailers filled with people moving out of the area an hour before the deadline was due to expire. More carloads were on the road.

An army spokesman said there had been constant exchanges of fire overnight around the villages of Slupcane, Orizare and Opaje.

A guerrilla source confirmed the fighting, saying the big village of Lipkovo, whose population has been swollen by displaced locals, had been shelled for the first time. There were no casualties, the source said.

EXTEND CEASFIRE, EU MINISTERS URGE

Both sides were under intense international pressure to step back from the brink of a major clash. The French and German foreign ministers late on Wednesday urged that the Macedonian "ceasefire must be extended."

Government sources some 740 villagers had left Opaje and Nikustac overnight -- about three times the number taken out by the International Red Cross in the past two weeks of fighting.

Macedonia has accused the rebels of holding several thousand villagers as human shields.

President Boris Trajkovski on Wednesday issued a final appeal to frightened ethnic Albanian civilians to move to safety, saying international observers would be on hand at police and army checkpoints to ensure their correct treatment.

Reporters who toured the fringes of the guerrilla-held region, west of the city of Kumanovo on the Athens-to-Belgrade highway, said they saw increased army and police checkpoints and well-armed roving patrols but no sign of a major army buildup.

Access to the rebel areas was denied.

REBEL FRONT CRACKING IN SERBIA

Trajkovski warned that while the security forces would do their utmost to avoid killing villagers, civilian casualties would ultimately be the responsibility of the guerrillas.

Many of the thousands huddled in homes battered by artillery and without electricity may have missed his sombre TV address.

Macedonian forces do not have experience in the sort of house-to-house operation Serb forces used to storm a rebel-held village in nearby souther Serbia on Tuesday, in which the Serbs say 14 guerrillas were killed.

Macedonia's new emergency government has to balance demands from the country's Slav majority for an overwhelming strike with ethnic Albanian pleas for a total ceasefire to avoid civilian deaths. Failure to get it right runs the risk of civil war.

"Surely there will be repercussions if the army attacks," NLA political leader Ali Ahmeti told Reuters by telephone late on Wedensday.

The NLA's cousins just over the Serbian border look less resilient. Despite threatening a war with the Yugoslav army when it returns to a rebel-infested no-go zone skirting Kosovo from next Thursday, 80 of them surrendered on Wednesday.

Kosovo's top NATO commander promised an amnesty to any others who followed their example of crossing into the U.N.-run Yugsoslav province and surrendering within the next week.

Macedonia has so far failed to advance on rebel positions, hampered, it says, by NLA use of ethnic Albanian villagers as human shields. The rebels deny the charge, saying civilians have nowhere else to go and fear losing their homes if they leave.

Balkans unites in opposition to ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

AFP

SKOPJE, May 17 (AFP) -

Huge military and political pressure was brought to bear Wednesday on ethnic Albanian guerrillas fighting in the southern Balkans, as international bodies lined up to condemn them and security forces closed in on their bases.

On Kosovo's border with war-torn southern Serbia more than 80 rebels gave themselves up to NATO peacekeepers, taking advantage of an amnesty announced by the Alliance.

A few miles further south in Macedonia the rebels were bracing themselves ahead of a expected onslaught from government troops, who have issued the guerrillas with a mid-day (1000 GMT) Thursday deadline to surrender.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of eight Balkan nations called on "Albanian extremists" in Macedonia to lay down their arms and withdraw from the north of the country.

"The ministers condemned the terrorist acts that threaten the stability of Macedonia and the whole region," the officials said in a declaration issued at the end of a meeting in Tirana of the South-East European Co-operation Process (SEECP).

"They called on the Albanian extremist groups to end violence, release their hostages, lay down their arms and withdraw without delay".

The regional leaders' tough comments were echoed in Skopje by a high level delegation of EU officials, who had come to Macedonia to support its fragile coalition government in its bid to contain the rebel threat.

"We think the new coalition government gives a key message that the armed extremists and thugs that are trying to destroy the country are isolated. The NLA (guerrillas) must withdraw," said Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh.

Macedonia's apparent determiniation to take the rebels on head-to-head has raised fears for the future of its four-day-old government of national unity and for the safety of more than 1,000 civilians trapped in frontline villages.

A previous eight day bombardment of rebel held territory was stopped to allow civilians to escape and lessen tensions as the coalition deal was negotiated.

But President Boris Trajkovski warned Wednesday that the rebels would not be allowed to hang on to captured territory for much longer.

He insisted that the government forces have been ordered to avoid any risk to civilians, but warned that the troops would "deal decisively" with the guerrillas.

"We will not allow violent and undemocratic forces to act freely, to occupy territories and to govern them," Trajkovski said in a statement issued by his office.

Meanwhile in southern Serbia police were consolidating their hold on a village seized Tuesday from another ethnic Albanian guerrilla group and preparing for a final push to retake the last pocket of resistance.

On May 24 NATO is to allow Belgrade's forces into the last section of the demilitarised buffer zone around Kosovo still barred to Yugoslav troops, bringing them within strike range of the guerrillas main stronghold.

But as Skopje and Belgrade were offering the guerrillas the stick, in Kosovo NATO unveiled a carrot. General Thorstein Skiaker said that any fighter coming back from southern Serbia and handing himself in would be amnestied.

More than 80 took up the offer on its first day.

The guerrillas in Macedonia and southern Serbia are led by former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) trying to repeat in neighbouring regions what they see as their victory against Belgrade's forces in the province in

After NATO peacekeeping troops occupied the breakaway southern Serbian province in June 1999, ethnic Albanian extremists turned their attentions elsewhere, launching rebellions in the name of the Albanian minorities in Macedonia and Serbia.

In Macedonia, a Day of Reckoning Looms Large.

TIME

Thursday, May 17, 2001

Cell Phone from Skopje: TIME's Dejan Anastasijevic says the country's future may depend on how the new government acts on its ultimatum to rebels

BY TONY KARON

TIME.com: NATO on Tuesday allowed the Yugoslav army to drive Albanian separatist rebels out of their last strongholds in Serbia's Presevo Valley. And the alliance is also backing the Macedonian government's efforts to crush that country's Albanian nationalist insurgency. Much appears to have changed in the Balkans since the Kosovo conflict

Dejan Anastasijevic: Yes, and of course the two situations are linked. The common denominator is that the attitude of the West towards armed Albanian separatists appears to have changed. In southern Serbia, NATO has invited Yugoslavia now, of course, under democratically elected president Vojislav Kostunica instead of Slobodan Milosevic to resume control of the buffer zone established at the end of the Kosovo conflict, and that sends a very clear message to the insurgents to disarm or leave the area, or else to face the Yugoslav security forces without any backup from NATO to protect them.

Here in Macedonia, the new unity government that includes the two main ethnic-Albanian parties even if their participation is somewhat reluctant has a lot of support in the population. But it faces a major test on Thursday at noon, when its deadline expires for the rebels to withdraw. If the rebels remain entrenched in the hills, the new government, including the Albanian parties, will have to decide on whether to launch the offensive they threatened.

We will have to see whether Macedonian security forces are actually able to eliminate the National Liberation Army (NLA) forces in the hills. There are some doubts about both the organizational level and the restraint of the Macedonian security forces. Taking the rebels out of the hills, where they are on favorable terrain, is a difficult undertaking, and the Macedonian army and police may not have the training or equipment for such a complex anti-guerrilla operation.

Being part of a decision to launch an offensive against rebels who say they're fighting for Albanian civil rights must be a difficult choice for the mainstream Albanian political parties

Yes, although they're part of the new government, these parties favor a political dialogue with the rebels. But that's not the government's position. So there is still a question mark over whether the unity of the new government will hold. A lot depends on what happens after the deadline for the rebel withdrawal expires on Thursday. If the government manages a successful operation against rebel strongholds in the mountains, it will be a tremendous boost. But if it turns out to be a mess either because of civilian casualties or because of substantial losses by the Macedonian security forces the government may not survive. And if the government does nothing when the deadline expires, it loses face, because its very first act was to issue an ultimatum to the rebels. So the coalition government could fail either if its forces don't do enough, or if they overdo it. It needs the support of both ethnic communities in order to survive. A lot depends on how the offensive is carried out. So Thursday is a very important day for the Macedonian government.

Has NATO changed the political climate in which the Albanian insurgencies have flourished?

The climate is beginning to change, but it's going to be a process rather than an act. Until now, Albanian extremists mostly got away with both criminal activities and attacks against other ethnic groups in Kosovo or incursions into neighboring territories. But this is starting to change. The extremists suffered setbacks in southern Serbia as a result of NATO allowing the Yugoslav army back, and the peacekeeping troops have increased the number of arrests and interceptions of arms supplies from Kosovo. Still, it may be some time before the separatist groups are persuaded to seek peaceful ways of solving their problems.

But NATO is starting to send a message that its tolerance for new Albanian insurgencies is decreasing. The NLA in Macedonia, whose recently elected leader had been a senior officer of the Kosovo Protection Force under NATO's auspices, had calculated that if they could repeat the Kosovo Liberation Army's strategy of provoking a clumsy and brutal response from the authorities, they too could get NATO to come in and bomb their enemies. They certainly didn't believe NATO would move against them. But the climate is changing. Still, much hinges on what happens Thursday, and whether the Macedonian security forces are up to the complex mission they've been given.

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Bulgarians in Yugoslavia Will Enjoy More Rights.

Standart

INTERVIEW.

I'm afraid violence in Macedonia will continue for a long time, says Yugoslav minister of the minority Rasim Ljaic.

- Minister Ljaic, under the law the Bulgarian minority enjoys the right to education in its mother tongue, but this is not actually done. Under the previous regime, the Bulgarians in Yugoslavia enjoyed their rights on paper only. What are the plans of the new Yugoslav government concerning minorities' rights?

- The acting law also envisages education in one's mother tongue, but the parents of Bulgarian nationality used to fear enrolling their children in the Bulgarian classes. The reasons for fear are history now and the new democratic authorities do not create any obstacles for the pupils to be trained in their mother tongue. Unlike the past, there isn't any pressure now.

- Do you see an early solution to the problem with the Albanians from the three municipalities - Bujanovac, Presevo and Medvedja, where ethnic clashes are reported all the time?

- NATO's decision for returning the Yugoslav political and military forces to sector 'B' of the safety zone is of enormous significance and it is a message to the armed extremists that their struggle won't be rewarded. We insist that the crisis be resolved in a peaceful and democratic way, we want to have the local Albanian community integrated into our society - into the power bodies from the municipalities to a state level, we have envisaged seats in the government for the Albanian representatives. The Albanians are citizens of that state and must enjoy equal rights with the others. The practice to judge people according to their ethnic origin and religion has to be brought to an end.

- Within the framework of the future decentralization process in Yugoslavia, what will be the place of the Albanians from Kosovo who don't want to be regarded as a minority, but want to have a state of their own?

- Let us be realists. The international protectorate in Kosovo will exist for many more years. At this moment it is important to make all the 'displaced' non-Albanians return to Kosovo and provide conditions for their security in the area. The international community must guarantee the human rights, it must condemn all acts of violence because the substitution of Milosevic's policy for Albanian violence over the non-Albanians will lead to a vicious circle.

- A broad coalition government was formed in Macedonia. Is this the end of the Macedonian crisis or you are sceptically-minded?

- For the time being the coalition can curb the existing political and ethnic passions, but on a long-term basis I don't think it could help normalization of the state for real. As long as there are armed groupings, it is difficult to expect that parliament will function in a normal way, as a legitimate institution. I fear a long period of instability with periods of appeasement alternated with low- and high-intensity clashes. I fear it might turn into Macedonia's long-term fate, which will jeopardize the stability of the region.

Tanya Mangalakova

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