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Equality and Harmony Between Macedonians, Ethnic Albanians Possible, Says Former Guerrilla - 2003-07-02

Ali Ahmeti, the former ethnic Albanian guerrilla leader in Macedonia, whose political party is now part of the country's ruling coalition, discussed the future of his country at a Tuesday forum in Washington. Mr. Ahmeti was only recently removed from a Treasury Department watch list that had prevented him from traveling to the United States.

Mr. Ahmeti spoke hopefully of achieving equality and harmony between Macedonians and the ethnic Albanians who comprise about a quarter of the population. He said the August 2001 framework agreement that ended the guerrilla conflict by promising greater rights to Albanians was historic and can be implemented.

But he complained that some Macedonian members of parliament continue to oppose the deal and block its implementation. The accord allows for the greater use of the Albanian language, greater powers for local governments, and significant increases in the number of Albanians in state institutions.

Mr. Ahmeti denounced opposition parties who have suggested that Macedonia should be partitioned along ethnic lines. He accused the opposition of playing a dangerous game and said partition was not possible.

Also on the U.S. Institute of Peace panel was American diplomat Robert Frowick, who helped facilitate the framework agreement. Mr. Frowick said the framework agreement is very important and is the only way to avoid further conflict in Macedonia.

"The most difficult thing in the Balkans, I have found from lengthy experience, is implementation. It's hard enough to get people to sign the paper," he explained. "But it's really the supreme challenge to achieve implementation. And that's where we are."

Last year, Mr. Ahmeti founded the Democratic Union for Integration, an ethnic Albanian-based party, that swept aside its main rival in last September's parliamentary election.

The former guerrilla leader said if Albanians achieve the full participation in Macedonian society promised by the framework agreement there will be no place for extremist groups who threaten further armed conflict to achieve their objectives. Many Macedonians doubt that the followers of Mr. Ahmeti will ever be loyal to a Macedonian state.

Ambassador Frowick, with considerable experience in the Balkans, said lack of political power and lack of equality were the principal causes of the ethnic conflict.

Macedonia is the southernmost and poorest part [republic] of the former Yugoslavia. Unemployment remains high and the inflow of foreign investment has been less than anticipated. A NATO peacekeeping force has given way to a smaller European Union force that is expected to depart at the end of the year.