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Ethnic-Albanians, Macedonians Diverge on Peace Agreement - 2001-09-26


There have been new developments in the Balkans this year as an ethnic-Albanian insurgency in Macedonia may have been contained by a recent peace agreement and the insertion of NATO troops. There is a new government of democratic reformers in Serbia. And national elections are planned for November in Kosovo, the Albanian-populated Serbian province that is occupied by NATO and administered by the United Nations.

VOA's Barry Wood has been in the three areas this month and files this reporter's notebook on what the changes seem to portend.

At a cafe on what is still called Marshall Tito street in downtown Skopje, the mood among Macedonians is grim.

The peace agreement between ethnic Albanians and the Macedonian government brokered last month by the European Union and the United States is not popular. The cafe talkers here believe, if implemented, the deal that gives ethnic-Albanians increased rights, means the end of an independent Macedonia, a country that emerged from the old Yugoslavia ten years ago.

Many Macedonians see independence in ethnic terms, viewing their country as a homeland for the two million majority Macedonians who for centuries have been fought over and ruled by others. They see increased rights for ethnic-Albanians, who comprise perhaps one third of the population, as a thinly disguised partition. The majority Macedonians scoff at the notion that ethnic-Albanians will profess loyalty to a Macedonian state.

Travel the modern highway west through the Vardar valley to the ethnic-Albanian populated west and several Albanians that a visiting reporter spoke with agree with the Macedonian critique. Soldiers of the Albanian National Liberation Army that forced the Macedonian government to the negotiating table are viewed as heroes.

Many young people in Tetovo and Gostivar speak openly of the need to unite all Albanians - those in Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo. Other ethnic-Albanians say they are willing to remain citizens of Macedonia, provided they have the same rights as the majority Macedonians.

Travel two hours north of Skopje to the Kosovo capital, Pristina, and the mood again is quite different. Pristina is a large and modern city, far more developed than when this reporter last visited 25 years ago. But amid an overwhelming international presence, virtually all traces of Serbian rule are gone.

Place names have been changed. I saw no public signs in Serbian. Serbian influence has vanished along with the tens of thousands of Serbs who used to live in the interior part of Kosovo. No one imagines that Serbian control will ever be reasserted.

The Kosovo elections, scheduled for November 17, are spoken of in hopeful terms. But the international community is not prepared to discuss either independence or changing national borders. That leaves Kosovo as a U.N. protectorate, with an economy that hardly functions, and wide-scale corruption.

If there is one hopeful sign in the region it is Serbia itself. The youthful reformers who ousted President Slobodan Milosevic one year ago are consolidating power. Relations with the international community are being rebuilt and there are hopes that the economy may be entering a period of sustained growth.

In Skopje, a short distance from the cafe, fishermen wade in the Vardar river next to the city's old stone bridge. They spend hours casting in the fast moving river. Occasionally, they get a bite and pull a fish out and tuck it into a wicker basket. The fishermen say they want peace. Anything that will keep war away from Skopje.

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