Macedonians and ethnic Albanians may not be sniping at one another, but political observers are skeptical that, despite a peace agreement, conditions for peace exist in Macedonia. Despite the recent enactment of laws addressing ethnic Albanian grievances, nationalist hostilities simmer below the surface.

Ed Joseph, Skopje representative of the International Crisis Group, is supportive of the August peace agreement and believes it could be successfully implemented. However, he worries that nationalist Macedonians, particularly parliament chairman Stojan Andov and prime minister Ljubcho Georgievski, may want to sabotage the deal. Mr. Joseph said, "These are the two key guys, the speaker of parliament and the prime minister, who collude on opposing. They both want to divide the place [the country]. They both don't believe in a joint life with Albanians."

Mr. Joseph spoke Wednesday at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. The researcher, who earlier spent considerable time in Bosnia, is skeptical that Macedonia, with its one third Albanian population and hostile neighbors, will succeed as a multi-ethnic state.

He is also troubled that Albanian gains in Macedonia were largely achieved by a military operation staged from neighboring Kosovo. "Importing the violence," he asked? "What can you say? I mean, that's a fact. Kosovo was a base for the NLA [National Liberation Army]. It's a fact. The proof of the fact is that K-FOR, when it became aggressive and actively interdicted the border, it succeeded in interdicting. It even got into firefights with a lot of these guys. I don't know how much more to say except that is the fact of the matter."

Under terms of the peace agreement, the NLA agreed to disband and hand over its weapons to international peacekeepers.

Former U.S. diplomat Daniel Serwer, who heads the Balkan project at the U.S. Institute for Peace, says on both sides of the ethnic divide there are pressures against implementing the agreement. "Remember, the general conditions in Macedonia are not good," he said. "You've got extensive corruption and criminality that pervade both communities. You've got underdeveloped political parties, immature political leadership. You've got miserable economic conditions. Hostile neighbors, uncertainty about Kosovo's final status - an unhappy reality at least for Albanians. You've got the heavy hand of both the Macedonian and Albanian diaspora which contribute money to extremist causes, at least some people do."

Mr. Serwer says for the peace agreement to succeed, strong political leadership is needed from both the Macedonian and Albanian sides. Parliamentary elections are likely within the next five months.

Nikola Dimitrov, as national security advisor to the Macedonian president, helped negotiate the peace agreement. Mr. Dimitrov says the next few months are a critical testing period for the peace agreement.

The next step, he says, is the return of the Macedonian police to areas that had been under the control of Albanian insurgents. Mr. Dimitrov said, "The crucial issue now, in close cooperation with NATO and also the OSCE and the EU monitoring mission, is the return of the security forces. And at the same time have a very strong political message to those who would like to use guns and violence that they will be treated as terrorists. With this completed, I think there is a space for optimism." Mr. Dimitrov is now Macedonia's ambassador in Washington.

International Crisis Group researcher Ed Joseph agrees that there is room for optimism. But he worries that the events of the past nine months have polarized Macedonian society and moved some Macedonian politicians to shift their orientation north and east towards Serbia and Bulgaria into what he calls an anti-Albanian alliance.