|Wednesday, 21 October 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 99, 01-05-24
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 5, No. 99, 24 May 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTECONTINUED CONFLICT
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 COMMISSION TO VERIFY ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SHOOTING INVESTIGATIONThe Armenian parliament on 23 May approved unanimously by 89 votes a proposal made one week earlier by the People's Party of Armenia and the Yerkrapah Union of War Veterans to establish a commission to investigate allegations that the authorities deliberately sabotaged the investigation into the October 1999 parliament shootings, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian retracted his earlier opposition to that proposal in the face of growing support for it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17 and 21 May 2001). Former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, the brother of one of the eight officials killed, warned that "if the real orchestrators of the terrorist act...are not found, our party may raise the issue of a change of power in the country," according to AP. The commission will have 12 members, three from the majority Miasnutiun faction, one each from other parliamentary parties and factions, and one representing nonaligned deputies. LF
 IMF, WORLD BANK APPROVE NEW LOANS FOR ARMENIAThe IMF and the World Bank have approved almost $140 million in new loans for Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 23 May. Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian told journalists that the IMF has approved a three-year low-interest Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility worth some $87 million to sustain macroeconomic stability, the first $13 million tranche of which will be released this week. The World Bank similarly approved a $50 million Structural Adjustment Credit that will cover approximately half of Armenia's anticipated 2001 budget deficit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2001). LF
 ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN TO DECIDE ON DATE OF NEXT KARABAKH TALKSArmenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev will set the date for their next meeting to discuss resolving the Karabakh conflict on the sidelines of the 31 May CIS summit in Minsk, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghadjanian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 23 May. The two presidents were tentatively scheduled to meet in Geneva in mid-June to continue those talks under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group, but Minsk Group mediators hinted during a tour of Azerbaijan and Armenia last weekend that those talks may be postponed until August or even later. Aghadjanian said that "additional difficulties" emerged during the mediators' visit, but declined to specify what they entail. LF
 GEORGIA, RUSSIA TO INVESTIGATE MEDIA COVERAGE OF PANKISIAt a meeting in Moscow on 23 May, the Georgian and Russian interior ministers, Kakha Targamadze and Boris Gryzlov, agreed to establish a joint working group to investigate ongoing media claims that thousands of Chechen fighters are camped in Georgia's Pankisi gorge, Russian agencies reported. But Targamadze denied Russian media reports that he and Gryzlov had agreed to begin a joint search for those Chechens, explaining that they had agreed only to exchange relevant information. In Tbilisi, a police chief from eastern Georgia told Interfax that nine mobile police units have been created and are combing the Pankisi gorge, but have found no evidence of the alleged Chechen militant presence there. LF
 GEORGIAN IDPS THREATEN SELF-IMMOLATIONTwenty-five families of displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992- 1993 civil war barricaded themselves in the former Tbilisi Silk Mill building on 23 May and threatened to set fire to the building unless they are allowed to live there permanently, Caucasus Press reported. Two days earlier, a group of displaced persons began a hunger-strike outside the Constitutional Court building in Tbilisi to demand the release of funds earmarked in the Georgian budget to enable displaced persons to start up their own businesses. LF
 GEORGIAN ARMED FORCES BEGIN MANEUVERSGeorgia's land and naval forces embarked on three days of large-scale maneuvers in western Georgia on 23 May, Caucasus Press reported. The exercises will simulate preventing a landing by sea by conventional enemy forces. The Abkhaz leadership has protested that the exercises violate agreements on limiting the amount of heavy armaments that may be deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN EXTRADITES TERRORISM SUSPECT TO RUSSIAZiyavudin Ziyavudinov, who was arrested in Almaty earlier this month, has been extradited to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 May. Ziyavudinov is suspected of involvement in a terrorist bombing in Daghestan in 1999 in which dozens were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2001). LF
 KAZAKH, UZBEK PRESIDENTS CONFERPresident Nazarbaev telephoned late on 22 May with his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Topics discussed included the economic and political situation in Central Asia, regional security, the situation in Afghanistan, and preparations for the June summit of the Shanghai Forum. They also assessed the need to convene a summit of leaders of Central Asian states in the near future, and agreed that a mutual treaty on the delimitation of the Kazakh-Uzbek border should be signed before the end of this year. LF
 KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE ADVOCATES ANNULMENT OF BORDER AGREEMENT WITH CHINAThe parliamentary committee on security and defense issues decided at its session on 23 May to call on the legislature to annul the August 1999 agreement whereby Kyrgyzstan ceded 87,000 hectares of the Uzengi-Kuush district to China, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 1999 and 9 and 23 May 2001). The parliament has not yet ratified that agreement as it has not received a copy. Government official Salamat Alamanov, who attended the committee session, refused to provide the committee with the document. New talks between Kyrgyzstan and China on demarcating their common border are scheduled for 5 June. LF
 KYRGYZ OPPOSITIONIST'S APPEAL POSTPONEDAn appeal by opposition Ar-Namys party activist Emil Aliev against a Bishkek City Court ruling imposing a 1,000 som ($20) fine for participating in an unsanctioned protest in Bishkek last month could not be heard because the presiding judge failed to appear, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF
 TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY SLAMS DISCRIMINATION, DENIES TIES WITH UZBEK ISLAMISTSSpeaking at a press conference in Dushanbe on 22 May, Muhiddin Kabiri, the deputy chairman of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), said that while his party supports President Imomali Rakhmonov's efforts to attract international investment, such investment "is useless" as long as corruption in Tajikistan is increasing, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 23 May. Kabiri also criticized what he termed the widespread pressure on the IRPT by regional officials, and the recent refusal to register three of the party's candidates in recent by-elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2001). Kabiri rejected as untrue repeated press claims of contacts between the IRPT and the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. LF
 GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES DEMOCRATIZATION, ECONOMIC COOPERATION IN UZBEKISTANJoschka Fischer met in Tashkent on 23 May with Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, Prime Minister Utkir Sultaonv, and Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov to discuss regional security issues and bilateral cooperation, Interfax reported. Fischer told journalists after those talks, which he described as "intensive and frank," that he emphasized that security issues cannot be considered in isolation from democratization and human rights. He said discussions focused on ways of increasing German investment in Uzbekistan. Trade turnover between the two countries amounted to $291.9 million last year. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTIES IN MACEDONIA AGREE ON PLATFORM WITH REBELSThe Belgrade-based Beta news agency, cited by dpa, reported on 23 May that Arben Xhaferi, the leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians (see End Note below), has signed an agreement with Ali Ahmeti, the political leader of the ethnic Albanian rebels fighting against Macedonian forces, to peacefully seek constitutional changes. Diplomats in Skopje said that Imer Imeri, of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Progress, has also agreed to the joint platform. The agreement reportedly seeks reforms to make Macedonia "a democratic country of all its citizens" while preserving its territorial integrity. Xhaferi and Imeri are said to have sworn not to seek any resolution of the situation through military action or "ethnic territory." Constitutional changes to be sought include proportional representation in state institutions, increased powers at the local level, and making Albanian an official language. The parties of both Xhaferi and Imeri are members of the broad coalition formed more than one week ago. Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski reacted angrily to the news, saying: "We cannot accept terrorists to enter through the back door to become a political factor. The signing of some document is a new political situation. We cannot accept the text of such a document." PB
 BULGARIAN OFFICIAL WANTS INTERNATIONAL PEACE FORCE IN MACEDONIA...Bulgarian Defense Minister Boiko Noev said on 23 May in Sofia that a multinational peacekeeping force should be deployed in Macedonia to prevent a war with the ethnic Albanian insurgents there, AP reported. Noev said "the situation is very worrying," and added that Bulgaria's fears "that the Macedonian authorities are facing increasing difficulties coping with the situation are growing stronger." Noev spoke before a meeting on Macedonia by the Bulgarian cabinet's Security Committee. Bulgaria said it could not be a part of such a force, but that it is willing to provide all logistical help needed for such troops. PB
 ...AS FIGHTING CONTINUESMacedonian officials blamed ethnic Albanian rebels on 23 May for an upsurge in the level of fighting in the areas around Kumanovo and Tetovo, dpa reported. Macedonian military spokesman Blagoja Markovski said the insurgents launched late-night attacks from Slupcane, Vaksince, and Orizare with mortars and machine guns. Rebels also attacked police posts near the town of Lisec. The insurgents of the National Liberation Army have maintained their hold on several small villages in the Kumanovo area, which is about 40 kilometers north of Skopje, despite several offensives and a virtual siege by Macedonian troops over the last three weeks. PB
 YUGOSLAV FORCES DEPLOY INTO KOSOVA BUFFER ZONEA joint force of some 4,000 Yugoslav security forces and Serbian police began moving on 24 May into the final section of the NATO-imposed buffer zone that separates Kosova from the rest of Serbia, dpa reported, citing radio B-92. The deployment is to end on 2 June when the security forces fully move into the southern and northern sectors of the zone. The zone was used by rebels of the ethnic Albanian Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac Liberation Army (UCPBM) to organize and support attacks against Serbian security forces in the Presevo valley region. A KFOR spokesman said in Prishtina on 24 May that some 400 UCPMB members have taken advantage of an amnesty to surrender their weapons. Most UCPBM leaders have agreed to demobilize and disband their forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2001). Serbian Deputy Premier Nebojsa Covic said that land mines pose a security threat to Yugoslav forces, as do the actions of "smaller groups of armed people." Ninoslav Krstic, the head of the joint force in the buffer zone, said his forces "will come in from several directions and shoot only if attacked." PB
 BELGRADE DRAFTS LAW ON EXTRADITION OF WAR CRIMES INDICTEES...The Yugoslav government has written a draft law that would allow Belgrade to extradite indicted war criminals to The Hague to face prosecution, AP reported on 23 May. Nebojsa Sarkic, a deputy justice minister, said the law would allow former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other war crimes suspects to be extradited to the UN war crimes tribunal after a legal review of their cases by Belgrade. He said the bill will next be reviewed by the Yugoslav government as a whole before being sent to the Yugoslav parliament. In The Hague, the spokeswoman for chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said on 23 May that there are 38 suspects wanted for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, 12 of whom are under sealed indictments. She emphasized that the 38 are members of different nationalities. PB
 ...BUT KOSTUNICA SPLITTING HAIRS OVER WESTERN DEMANDS FOR MILOSEVIC'S EXTRADITIONYugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 23 May that the eventual passing of a law to allow Yugoslavia to extradite its citizens to The Hague court does not mean that former President Milosevic will be automatically sent there, AP reported. Kostunica said: "the only thing asked of Yugoslavia is that the government draft a law and put it in parliamentary procedure." He added that: "most importantly, the law will not enable automatic extradition to The Hague tribunal, because if there was this type of automatic response everything could be done by correspondence between The Hague and Belgrade." Kostunica also emphasized that the proposed law on extradition is not a precondition for the holding of a donors conference on Yugoslavia due to be held next month. PB
 KOSTUNICA SAYS KOSOVAR SERBS SHOULD REGISTER TO VOTEThe Yugoslav president said on 23 May in Belgrade that his government will urge Kosovar Serbs to register for general elections to be held in November, although he added that they shouldn't take part in the elections until certain conditions are met, Reuters reported. At a news conference, Kostunica criticized the UN-approved blueprint for self-government in the province as providing a "final solution" for Kosova and for failing to protect minority rights there. Nevertheless, Kostunica said Serbs in Kosova should register to vote, although "the question of their participation in the elections must remain open until some of these uncertainties are resolved." PB
 MONTENEGRO TO ATTEND DONORS CONFERENCEMontenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said on 23 May that his republic will be represented at the donors conference for Yugoslavia scheduled for next month because Montenegro has a right to its share of any funds pledged at the event, Reuters reported. Djukanovic said in London that "we would not like our country not to enjoy those rights which Yugoslavia, of which we are a part pending the final resolution, has as a joint state." He said that Montenegro has also prepared a series of projects to submit to the Brussels conference. World Bank Vice President Johannes Linn has said that donors will make pledges to Yugoslavia as a whole, and not specifically to either Serbia or Montenegro. PB
 82 BODIES EXHUMED FROM CROATIAN MASS GRAVESAccording to a Croatian judge, the bodies of 82 people have been exhumed from suspected mass graves near the town of Knin, dpa reported on 23 May. Judge Ivo Vukelja, who is working with forensic experts from The Hague war crimes tribunal, said the bodies are undergoing DNA analysis in Zagreb. "We want to determine if war crimes have been committed or not," he added. Knin was the capital of the Krajina region held by Croatian Serbs and taken by the Croatian army in 1995. DW
 CROATIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: ECONOMIC WOES COULD TRIGGER BALKAN UNRESTForeign Minister Tonino Picula said in Ottawa on 23 May that the economic problems facing Balkan countries could return the region to conflict if steps are not taken by the international community, Reuters reported. "I think that could be the base for further political conflicts in the region...what I am expecting is the possibility of conflicts inside states, thanks to economic problems which can generate political difficulties," he said. Picula said the international community has to "pay a lot of attention" on how to "increase the level of economic development in the region." He also said Croatia must deal with the return of thousands of Serb refugees who fled Croatia. "We don't want to invite people to come back to poverty, ...if you want people to stay...you have to provide them with certain accommodation and...give them jobs." DW
 KARADZIC DENIES WAR CRIMESIn a letter published in the Belgrade tabloid "Nedljni Telegraf" on 23 May, Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic denied involvement in alleged war crimes for which he has been indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Reuters reported. Karadzic's letter, addressed to Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, reacted to accusations in the European Parliament that the church failed to condemn wartime atrocities committed by the Bosnian Serbs. "It was clear to everyone who was honest that there was no slaughter which was the result of our politics... I wish to convince you that when the entire truth is known, the Serbian side will not be ashamed," he wrote. He also claimed The Hague tribunal acts for political reasons, not legal ones. DW
 THINK TANK URGES NO NATO REDUCTION IN BOSNIAA report issued on 23 May by the International Crisis Group urged NATO to resist pressure to reduce the number of troops taking part in the Bosnian Stabilization Force (SFOR), Reuters reported. The report said the force is already below intended strength at a "sensitive time," and that when SFOR was cut from 30,000 troops to 20,000 a year ago, 19 military police units were supposed to be deployed to replace them. "In fact, only 11 have been provided." The report also said the force's intelligence-gathering ability is well below its planned level, which was evident when SFOR troops were caught by surprise by Croatian rioters last month, and by Bosnian Serb riots over attempts to rebuild mosques in two Bosnian Serb communities. DW
 OLDEST SARAJEVO DAILY REOPENSSarajevo's largest and oldest daily, "Oslobodjenje," reappeared at newsstands today after not being published for four days due to a strike by its journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2001), dpa reported on 24 May. The newspaper had never ceased publication in its history, even publishing daily news during the siege of Sarajevo. The staff went on strike on 17 May after a 20 percent wage cut in April. After negotiations with shareholders and management, the striking staff was promised its full pay for April along with a change of management. DW
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES HUNGARIAN 'STATUS BILL'...Ion Iliescu on 23 May said in Miercurea Ciuc that the preoccupation displayed by the Hungarian government with "the fate of Magyars living in other countries is an example worth emulating," but deemed "inadequate, strange, and non-European" the intention to have identity cards issued to members of the Hungarian minority, Romanian radio and Mediafax reported. Iliescu repeated that the government in Budapest must "consult" with neighboring countries on the pending "Status Bill." He spoke after visiting the counties of Harghita and Covasna, which have an ethnic Hungarian majority. Romanian diplomats on 24 May began consultations on the bill in Budapest with officials from the Hungarian Foreign Ministry. MS
 ...AS ROMANIAN MINISTER SAYS CENSUS WILL BE ONLY YARDSTICK FOR LAW IMPLEMENTATIONIliescu also said the Law on Local Public Administration, which came into force on 23 May, does not signify that the country's official language is no longer Romanian. Public Administration Minister Octavian Cozmanca clarified on the same day that the provisions of the new law allowing street signs in minority languages in localities with at least 20 percent minority populations will be based on the 1992 census and its update estimates by the National Statistical Office. Cozmanca expressed the hope that Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar, who has said he will oppose the implementation of the law in the city, "will at the end of the day display a reasonable attitude." Funar, who claims the 1992 census was distorted, recently said he will "use the census of [Dacian King] Burebista" to establish how many ethnic Hungarians live in Cluj. MS
 ROMANIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY PARLIAMENTARIANS RESIGNDeputy Cristian Dumitrescu and Senator Avram Filipas on 23 May announced they are leaving the Democratic Party and will function as independents in the parliament, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Both are supporters of former Democratic Party Chairman Petre Roman, who recently lost his position. They said the new party statutes promoted by its new chairman, Train Basescu, infringe on the freedom of expression of party members. On the same day, Basescu met with Virgil Magureanu, the leader of the extraparliamentary National Alliance, and discussed among other things the possible merger of their formations. The merger will be debated at the next meeting of the National Alliance's leadership on 26 May. MS
 ROMANIAN SRI DIRECTOR ENVISAGES PURGERomanian Intelligence Service (SRI) Director Radu Timofte said on 23 May that some officers in the service "would have to make room for younger people" and some will have to be dismissed because they oppose Romania's accession to NATO and the EU, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Timofte alluded that the two SRI groups are actually made up of the same people. He said that some 15 percent of the SRI personnel are former members of the Securitate and most of them are "elderly, and oppose accession [to NATO and the EU] out of inertia." He said the SRI is facing a "personnel gap" of people in the 30 to 40 age bracket. MS
 POVERTY RISES STEEPLY IN ROMANIAPrime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 23 May that nearly half of Romanians "live on the edge of poverty," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Speaking at a meeting of the government's Anti-Poverty Commission, which he chairs, Nastase said that a system of "social solidarity" must be put in place. He said that the number of those living in poverty has risen eight-fold in the past 10 years and that most of them live under conditions of "extreme poverty." In the last four years, their numbers have increased by 20 percent, Nastase said. He also said that among European countries, only Albania, Russia, and Moldova have a higher proportion of poverty stricken people. MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT'S 'UNILATERAL STEPS' LARGER THAN FIRST REPORTEDVladimir Voronin's proposals on measures to increase the free movement of people and goods over Moldovan territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2001) are larger than first reported. Moldovan media reports said the Moldovan president wants to reduce the number of checkpoints in the security zone from 10 to four, removing from those posts not only customs officials, but also border guards, as well as Joint Control Commission personnel. The commission includes representatives of Moldova, Russia, and the Transdniester and was set up in 1992. The commission makes decisions by consensus and its Moldovan co-chairman, Gorge Roman, said on 23 May that he "firmly believes" the commission will approve Voronin's proposals. Voronin has earlier said that if the separatists reject the proposals, Moldova will implement them unilaterally. MS
 MOLDOVAN DEFENSE MINISTRY DISMISSES OFFICER-DIPLOMATThe Defense Ministry on 23 May said it has dismissed from the army Colonel Nicolae Turtureanu for "discrediting the honor of an army officer," Infotag reported. Turtureanu, who was Moldova's representative in NATO's Partnership for Peace Program in Brussels, left his post and disappeared without a trace in March, shortly after the parliamentary elections that brought the Party of Moldovan Communists to power. Before he disappeared, he handed all the documents from his office to the Moldovan Embassy in Brussels and then sent a fax to the embassy notifying it that he was quitting his post. At the ministry's request the military prosecution on 23 May also initiated procedures for charging Turtureanu with desertion. MS
 IMF BACKS WORLD BANK'S WARNING TO BULGARIAThe IMF on 23 May said it supports the World Bank's caution to Bulgaria that Sofia should press ahead with economic reforms regardless of which party wins next month's parliamentary elections, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2001). MS
 BULGARIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS PLEA BY PROSECUTOR-GENERALThe Constitutional Court on 22 May voted 7 to 5 to reject Prosecutor- General Nikola Filichev's request to rule as unconstitutional a provision in the Electoral Law that grants immunity from prosecution to candidates running for parliament and their representatives, BTA reported. The court said the immunity granted during the electoral campaign "has been established with a view to guaranteeing the free exercise of the citizens' rights to elect and be elected." MS
[C] END NOTE
 MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN POLITICIAN XHAFERI: REAL DIALOGUE, OR RISK OF CONTINUED CONFLICTBy Jolyon Naegele
Arben Xhaferi, the ailing 53-year-old chairman of Macedonia's largest Albanian political party, is widely considered the sole statesman among the country's ethnic Albanian political leaders.
The international community has repeatedly placed its faith and hopes in him to help find a solution to the ongoing crisis over ethnic Albanian rights in Macedonia. Xhaferi appears to have regained his standing after the rebellion last March in and around Macedonia's northwestern ethnic Albanian stronghold of Tetovo, in which young protesters jeered whenever his name was mentioned and cheered whenever they heard gunfire from the nearby hills.
Xhaferi suffers from Parkinson's disease and members close to him in his Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh) told RFE/RL they believe Xhaferi will step down as party chairman within a month or so.
PDSh was a junior member in the previous (1998 to 2001) government of nationalist-oriented Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. On 13 May, Xhaferi and Georgievski's parties helped form a new government of national unity -- together with the Liberals, the opposition Social Democrats, and the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity -- in an effort to share responsibility for the fate of the country.
One of the main purposes of forming a unity government, which the international community had urged, is to open a dialogue among the country's political leaders to try to develop a solution to the crisis.
But Xhaferi is wary of parties jockeying for position in advance of early parliamentary elections to be held no later than January. In a long interview with RFE/RL in his party headquarters in Tetovo -- during which he spoke in a voice barely louder than a whisper -- he said the parties in the new government "should stop trying to destroy the dialogue by turning it into a farce.
"We must choose dialogue on the essential issues which led to this crisis. And the issue of the legal position of Albanians in society, their place in Macedonia's Constitution," Xhaferi said. "You know, we have to correct the cause of the crisis and create a truly multiethnic society in a multiethnic state." But, Xhaferi added, "that is not possible to accomplish without changes to the constitution."
Xhaferi rejects suggestions that Albania's Socialist party-led government may be clandestinely supporting the ethnic Albanian fighters in Macedonia. He said the Albanian government and "all Albanian political subjects" constitute a factor of stability not only in Macedonia but in the region as a whole.
The ethnic Macedonian parties reject out of hand any suggestion of negotiating with representatives of the armed fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK), whom they call "terrorists."
But Xhaferi said the UCK is a factor in the dispute and should be included in some discussions.
"The UCK is not a part of the government, structurally, and cannot participate in these negotiations," Xhaferi said, "but if an international conference were to be organized in Macedonia, there certainly ought to be space for the UCK to participate."
Xhaferi insisted that the UCK is not a terrorist organization, but rather a military one. He said that it conducts itself as an army and does not organize terrorist acts, limiting its targets to the military and police. And in Xhaferi's words, the UCK fighters "identify themselves by their uniforms, first and last names, and by their concrete actions."
Other Albanian politicians in Albania note that international law does not define what constitutes terrorism.
"They are not working in illegality [underground], nor do they engage in attacks on the civilian population of Macedonia. They are not fighters of a terrorist organization operating illegally," Xhaferi said.
Xhaferi maintained that his party, PDSh, "does not have any real contacts at the level of party organs" with the UCK, though he acknowledges that personal relations between PDSh activists and UCK activists clearly do exist. He said it would certainly help if some formal channel of communication could be established between his party and UCK to enable an exchange of information and a joint search for a solution acceptable to Macedonian society as a whole.
Sources close to the PDSh -- who asked not to be identified -- told RFE/RL that Xhaferi's chief of cabinet, Izak Sherifi, recently quit his post and went over to the UCK. But Xhaferi said Sherifi has personal problems, and added that he is "absolutely sure [Sherifi] is not in the ranks of the UCK."
Xhaferi said the government of neighboring Albania, as well as all of the country's institutions, are factors of stability in Macedonia and the region as a whole. The problem, he said, lies with the Macedonians, who constitute at least two-thirds of the population and who insist on having a nation-state rather than a state based on civil principles.
"The Macedonian [Slav community] in Macedonia makes [the country] appear to be a state of Macedonians, regardless of whether they give any rights to the Albanians. So it is not a problem between the Albanians and the international community but rather one of perception of the state," Xhaferi said. "[The Macedonians] perceive the state as belonging to their own [ethnic Macedonian] people -- that is, just to one nation -- although they live with other peoples in this state.
"The state ought never to be based on ethnic groupings but rather [should represent] all its citizens. [The] Macedonians have to change their perception of the state into one that serves all citizens," Xhaferi added. He predicts that once the Macedonians change their perception of what the state is and view it as serving all citizens, then the major interethnic problems would soon be amicably resolved.
However, Xhaferi warns that if fighting and economic difficulties continue to weaken Macedonia in the coming years, the country will face a growing risk of collapse. He said that whether the current fighting by ethnic Albanians spreads now depends on the willingness of the various sides to open quickly what he terms "a rational, productive, permanent dialogue on changes in the concept -- or perception -- of the state so as to avoid [further] conflict."
Xhaferi said that that if the dialogue proves to be half-hearted, then the end result will be a further militarization of the crisis and more armed conflict in Macedonia.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty