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Job of Stabilizing Macedonia not Complete, says Analyst - 2003-09-24

An analyst who spent the last two years in Macedonia says the job of stabilizing the former Yugoslav republic is not complete. Ed Joseph has just returned from directing research in Macedonia for the International Crisis Group. Wednesday he told a forum at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center why he thinks the ethnically divided territory still faces an uncertain future.

Mr. Joseph says it would be a mistake if the European Union, as is planned, dismantles its small military force and withdraws from Macedonia in mid-December. While significant progress has occurred since a stronger inter-ethnic coalition swept to power in elections one-year ago, Mr. Joseph believes the current stability is fragile and requires a continuing international presence.

Macedonia was on the brink of civil war two years ago when western diplomats mediated a peace agreement endorsed by all parties that promised greater rights for the Albanian minority.

Mr. Joseph cautions the international community to be less vocal in proclaiming Macedonia's transformation a success. He says some of the assumed progress is illusory.

Contrary to plan, he says, promised moves to decentralize decision-making have not occurred. And even in more satisfactory areas like education and policing, substantive progress has been slow.

Mr. Joseph says while the government is committed to the peace accord and wants Macedonia to remain a unified country, opposition politicians are endorsing partition.

"There are other Albanian politicians like [coalition co-leader] Ali Ahmeti's rival, Arben Xaferri, who are openly calling for greater Albania and the division of Macedonia, which would be a disaster," he said. "I do not think it is possible to divide the country without very serious conflict."

More than one quarter of Macedonia's two million population is Albanian. For the moment, Mr. Joseph says Macedonia is an under-performing country with a weak economy.

He says he favors independence for U.N. administered Kosovo, the Albanian-populated Serbian territory on Macedonia's northern border. Kosovo independence, he says, would promote stability in Macedonia. But Mr. Joseph says Kosovar Albanians must cease all discussion of incorporating Albanian-populated districts of neighboring territories.

"My thinking is that we have to cut all of that off at the outset, and tell the Albanians [in Kosovo] if you are even interested in moving towards final status, you have to understand that Montenegro and Macedonia are simply not to be touched or talked about," said Ed Joseph.

Mr. Joseph, who previously worked for humanitarian relief in Bosnia, believes that border changes anywhere in the former Yugoslavia would be detrimental to regional stability.