Dejan Anastasijevic: It's not the beginning of a new war not yet, but the warning signs are there. What we have here is a spillover from Kosovo, and it's not going to go away; it's going to get worse. The "new" guerrilla force calling itself the National Liberation Army and claiming to represent Macedonia's Albanian minority is not new at all. It's simply the KLA under a new name, whose Albanian acronym, UCK, is exactly the same as it was in Kosovo. Its commanders are all former KLA commanders, who have the backing of their friends in Kosovo. And it's being funded by the same "Homeland" fund based in Switzerland that funded the KLA. So it's the same people trying to do the same thing all over again their immediate objective is self-rule for Albanians in whichever country they may live. That's the first step. The second step is unification of those Albanian enclaves with Albania.
Does the new insurgency have the support of Macedonia's Albanians?
The majority probably feel a little bit uncomfortable about these guys. They don't have overwhelming general support, but what happened today in Tetovo demonstrates that they have enough support to start serious trouble. A crowd of Albanian nongovernmental organizations was marching to protest police brutality, although there have been no recent reports of police brutality the incidents cited tend to have occurred some time ago. And then the moment gunfire started, this same crowd began chanting "KLA, KLA" and attacking non-Albanian journalists watching the scene. So this guerrilla force certainly has enough support to start serious trouble.
It's important to note that while previous skirmishes occurred along the border with Kosovo, this was deep inside Macedonia. Joint efforts by Macedonian security forces and KFOR managed to eradicate several NLA outposts on the border. As a result of this wipeout, they've moved the theater of operations deeper into Macedonia, where KFOR cannot help. And because it's now an internal matter, the Macedonian constitution also prevents the use of the military. So the Macedonian authorities are forced to rely on lightly armed special police, who are outgunned by the NLA.
What about NATO? Surely this puts tremendous pressure on the alliance to clamp down, so as to avoid yet another disastrous Balkan war breaking out?
NATO's hands are tied now that the conflict has moved deeper into Macedonia. Tanusevci [the village U.S. troops helped Macedonia recapture] was in full view of NATO forces guarding the Kosovo border. But inside Macedonia, they have no leverage. They have no mandate to do anything. NATO obviously wants to avoid another Balkan war, but the trouble has started and it's not going to go away. They could crack down on the logistical support the NLA is getting from Kosovo, and on the guys there pulling the strings. NATO knows who these people are. But that would mean spoiling friendships with some key players on the Albanian political scene, and new confrontations in Kosovo, which they also want to avoid.
Political and legal concerns will probably prevent NATO from doing anything. They're trying to start a peace process, but it's not really in the interests of the NLA to negotiate a solution, because if they're not manufacturing flash points, they cease to be important and the politicians take over. The politicians are also trying to exploit the situation, calling for a renegotiation of Macedonian political arrangements, and full independence for Kosovo.
You covered both Bosnia and Kosovo from the beginning of those conflicts. Is what you're seeing in Macedonia following the same pattern?
Macedonia is not the same as either Bosnia or Kosovo, but it has striking and depressing similarities with both. Macedonia has a lethal combination of three factors: A group of extremists who are getting away with using violence; a corrupted government here in Skopje and the absence of any government in Kosovo, which means the authorities are unable or unwilling to take the necessary steps to stamp out violence; and a dazed and confused international community whose priority is maintaining the safety of their own personnel, and starting a "peace process" that is merely an excuse for doing nothing. The same combination was present in Kosovo and Bosnia, which allowed a low-intensity conflict to blow up into serious bloodshed and, ultimately, the destruction of the country. I'm afraid the same thing is starting here.