Monday, January 03, 2005

Kosovo independence benefits Macedonia despite Serbian propaganda - commentary

Excerpt from commentary by Besnik Ismaili: "Breaking ice towards better future neighbourly relations", published by Macedonian Albanian-language newspaper Fakti on 31 December

Although they have been neighbouring states ever since the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Macedonia and Kosova [Kosovo] have not yet been able to build real neighbourly relations. Unlike the Kosovar side, which has always been open to and ready for intensifying relations and raising them to an ever higher level, Macedonia has always seen Kosova as a country generating a crisis that could at any moment upset Macedonia. The Serbian propaganda machine, which is also assisted by most of the Macedonian media, has been and is still playing an ever greater role in Macedonia.

This was confirmed by a report produced by the Serbian propaganda machine a few days ago to the effect that a spring offensive was being prepared in southern Serbia. The purpose of this report and this kind of propaganda is to present Kosova and the Albanians as a destabilizing factor in the Balkans, precisely at a time when the talks about the status of Kosova draws ever nearer. This is all intended to demonize the Albanians and weaken the position of the Kosova government even before the talks start on their country's final status.

As for relations with Kosova, Macedonia now asks with apprehension what will become of Macedonia if Kosova becomes independent, always proceeding from the assumption that Kosova's independence would create problems for the Balkan region and especially for the security of its borders with Kosova. A few days ago President Crvenkovski also mentioned this as Macedonia's concern in an address to parliament.

Border issue

The demarcation of the border between Macedonia and Kosova has remained unresolved ever since 2001. In the first days of the armed conflict between the National Liberation Army [NLA] and the Macedonian army in Tanushe [Tanushevci] on 23 February 2001, the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Macedonia signed an agreement under which Kosova, a UN-administered territory since 1999, would be deprived of 2,500 hectares of its territory. [Passage omitted]

On 23 May 2003 the Kosova Assembly passed a resolution on Kosova's territorial integrity, which former UNMIK [UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] Chief Administrator Michael Steiner unjustly annulled. [Passage omitted] Subsequently, this agreement was the subject of contradictory statements by the United Nations and NATO, on one hand, and their missions in Kosova (UNMIK and Kfor [Kosovo Force]), on the other. The two former accepted the agreement, while the two latter said it contravened UN Resolution 1244.

Former UNMIK spokesman Suzan Manuel stated, "The territory of Kosova cannot be the subject of an agreement, as long as the UNSC does not authorize its final status." This agreement was also opposed by Marcel Valentin, the former commander of peacekeeping forces in Kosova, as long as the NATO authorities in Brussels had declared that they supported Macedonia's territorial integrity and respected the agreement concluded between Belgrade and Shkup [Skopje] on border demarcation. [Passage omitted]

For his part, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated that the organization that he represented respected the agreement concluded between Yugoslavia and Macedonia. According to the UN secretary general, the United Nations would define the territory of Kosova according to the map in possession of the Security Council when it passed its June 1999 Resolution. Any change of territory had to be approved by the Security Council. However, the agreement that the United Nations supported was approved 18 months after the adoption of Resolution 1244.

Free trade agreement

The Kosova authorities came up with the idea of free trade between Kosova and Macedonia some six months ago, stressing that, if such an agreement was not signed, Kosova would charge customs duties on imports from Macedonia.

The issue was raised again at a visit that UNMIK and local Kosova authorities paid to Macedonia only two weeks before the end of 2004. On this occasion the Shkup authorities were informed that, starting in January 2005, Kosova would consider the trade agreement between Macedonia and Yugoslavia void.

The reasons for a trade agreement between Kosova and Macedonia are of an economic nature and represent a basis for developing all forms of economic and commercial cooperation, with joint investment, joint production, and joint representation on foreign markets. [Passage omitted]

The Macedonian authorities say that the free trade agreement with Kosova will be the same as the one concluded with Belgrade in 1996, which means that in the future the exchange of goods between the two countries will be made after clearing customs. In the meantime, UNMIK, which also administers Kosova's customs, is not so sure whether the free trade agreement between Kosova and Shkup will be the same as that signed between Skopje and Belgrade.

Speaking about this issue, Bujar Dugolli, Kosova's trade and industry minister, stressed that, while considering the trade agreement with Macedonia, the Kosovar side would be very careful not to harm Kosova's economy. According to Dugolli, the agreement would be signed only after a thorough study by Kosovar and Macedonian professional teams of specialists.

For its part, the Macedonian side has found a compromise: it will sign the agreement with UNMIK, not with the Kosova government. The new agreement will invalidate Macedonia's free trade agreement with Belgrade. [passage omitted]

Kosova's independence will increase stability and peace in region

The solution to Kosova's final status is expected to be reached by the end of next year. [Passage omitted] The current Kosova government is interested in creating democratic, political and economic stability in the region, based on the principles of a strategic partnership with the international community, especially the EU, the United States, NATO and the EU, as well as other international institutions and agencies. [Passage omitted]

With Kosova's independence, Macedonia will gain a neighbour that has no claim on its territory and an economic partner that will have an impact on the development of the Macedonian market.

Considering that negotiations on Kosova's final status will be held in the second half of next year, it is very important that the issue of the demarcation of the Kosova-Macedonian border should not be left pending. [Passage omitted]

Source: Fakti, Skopje, in Albanian 31 Dec 04 p 35


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