Macedonia Peace Plan Will Test Rebels' Intentions

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EU negotiator Francois Leotard (L) and his US colleague James Pardew (R) Macedonia's political parties appear to have agreed on changes to improve the status of the country's Albanian community, and Western mediators seem very optimistic that this will avert the civil war that has been looming for months. Is their optimism shared on the ground?

Joshua Kucera: It's a little early to say, but there has certainly been a significant hardening of attitudes among both Macedonians and ethnic-Albanians as the conflict played out in recent months, and I don't think that will going to simply be wiped away by a peace agreement. The politicians who concluded this agreement are going to have a tough job selling it to both communities and convincing people that they can live together again.

The ethnic-Albanian community has been represented in the talks by the political parties that had participated in Macedonia's parliamentary system, rather than by the guerrillas who had rejected their moderation and taken up arms. But the agreement requires that those guerrillas disband and hand over their weapons. How will they be persuaded to accept the deal?

The ethnic-Albanian political parties, if they are to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis, have to keep in mind what the rebel leaders want. Of course some rebel leaders are saying the agreement that has been reached is not enough, while others are saying it is sufficient. Ultimately, it will be up to the rebels' political leadership, who, while they haven't directly taken part in the talks, have been consulted and kept informed. And as long as the rebels' top leaders go along with the agreement, it must be presumed that the regional field commanders will go along. NATO has been spending time talking to the top brass of the rebel movement to persuade them to go along with the deal.

Many observers of the conflict have expressed doubt that the rebels were simply fighting for constitutional reforms in Macedonia, suggesting instead that they were trying to take control of a piece of the country in order to join it to a "Greater Albania." Presumably, then, this agreement will be a real test of the guerrillas' intentions…

The guerrillas' intentions remain the $64,000 question, and nobody confidently knows the answer. Many of the rank and file members of the guerrilla army say they're fighting for a "Greater Albania." The question is whether their commanders believe it's worth pressing forward with that objective at this point. Some may argue that they've done extremely well in their campaign thus far, and that it might be a wiser course of action, right now, to accept the peace plan and consolidate what they've gained. They may see "Greater Albania" as a long-term project.

It won't be easy making peace when the economy is in such a dire state, and there are so many men of fighting age in both communities without much by way of job prospects…

Yes, Macedonia was one of the poorest countries in Europe to start off with, and the war has made it worse. People have been grumbling that the government sold off its telecommunications company, but all the money from that privatization has now gone to the war effort. So the country is in a bad way economically, and cementing any peace may depend in large part on a package of economic aid.