Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

NATO, EU Seek to Avoid Wider Balkan Breakdown

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

NATO, EU Seek to Avoid Wider Balkan Breakdown

Article excerpt

International diplomats scrambled yesterday to head off a civil war in Macedonia that threatens to unravel years of Western policy in the Balkans.

European foreign policy supremo Javier Solana held talks with leaders of the Macedonian government and of the minority Albanian community in search of common ground. While he said a political solution was the only answer, Mr. Solana told reporters: "It is a mistake to negotiate with the terrorists, and we do not recommend it."

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was due to arrive in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, as well, after warning of "a new explosion in the Balkans."

But Macedonian authorities yesterday dismissed an offer for peace talks from ethnic-Albanian rebels. Moreover, Army troops launched a new offensive near Tetovo, the scene of sporadic clashes for the past week.

On the other side of the border, in Kosovo, NATO troops beefed up their presence to interdict supplies to the rebels. "This country has been a success story so far," says Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for Solana. "We should not allow it to break down." Macedonia's 25 to 30 percent Albanian minority has so far managed to get along with the Slav majority in reasonable harmony - though often complaining of treatment as second-class citizens - and ethnic Albanians hold cabinet posts in the government. Guerrillas fighting in the north of the country say they want improved civil rights. Some support turning ethnic-Albanian dominated areas of the country into a "greater Kosovo."

The fighting has sparked fears around the world that the ethnic violence that engulfed the former Yugoslav republics of Bosnia- Herzegovina and Croatia could now tear apart Macedonia, the only one to have avoided warfare so far.

Solana was seeking agreement from ethnic-Albanian and Macedonian- Slav political leaders, in and out of government, on a strong condemnation of the violence. "Clear isolation of the extremists should be the first step to return the situation to calm," said Ms. …

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