Last Monday, international envoys and government officials in Macedonia hammered out a last minute peace accord. However, this eleventh hour attempt to avoid another Balkan civil war may yet prove to be a case of "too little, too late," as the fighting here continues to escalate.
Under the terms of the agreement, once a solid cease-fire can be established, a NATO force of some 3,000 peacekeepers will be deploying into Macedonia. The major task of these NATO troops will be to disarm the ethnic Albanian guerillas (UCK) who have successfully established control of nearly 30% of Macedonia's territory.
For the battered Macedonian security forces that have fought the UCK over the past six months, the arrival of the NATO force will be a bitter pill to swallow.
"If NATO hadn't been arming and equipping the UCK in Kosovo there would be no need for them to 'disarm' these guerillas now in Macedonia," said Goran Stevanovic, a sergeant with an elite Macedonian police unit.
'GOD BLESS AMERICA'
At the diplomatic level, the provision of military aid to the UCK is vehemently denounced, but on the ground in Macedonia, there is no denying the massive amount of materiel and expertise supplied by NATO to the guerrillas.
The UCK commanders welcomed me with a shout of, "God bless America and Canada too for all that they have provided to us!" In the well constructed UCK bunkers overlooking the besieged city of Tetovo, there is ample evidence of US military hardware. Everything from sidearms and sniper rifles to menacing-looking grenade launchers are emblazoned with a "Made in the USA" logo.
An abundant stock of sophisticated night vision goggles provides the UCK with a tremendous tactical advantage over the Macedonian security forces. By nightfall, the Macedonians are compelled to hole-up in their bunkers while the UCK roam with impunity throughout the Tetovo streets.
"Snake" Arifaj, a 22-year-old platoon commander with the UCK, proudly displayed his unit's impressive arsenal and said, "Thanks to Uncle Sam, the Macedonians are no match for us."
Two weeks ago, there was a flurry of diplomatic protests filed by the Macedonian government when two US helicopters were observed delivering supplies to an Albanian village in the mountains above Tetovo. Officially, the US claimed their aircraft were only transporting vital "humanitarian aid." However, the local UCK commander "Commandant Mouse" contradicted this statement and confirmed that the Americans had in fact delivered "heavy mortars and ammunition" to the UCK.
As proof of "Mouse's" claim, Thursday, 16 August, the UCK began bombarding Tetovo with 120mm and 82mm mortars. Judging from the duration and intensity of the bombardment, which I witnessed, ammunition supply is not a problem for the UCK fighters.
The US also frequently used their tactical helicopters to gather intelligence inside Macedonia, without authorization from the Macedonian government. The sight of the US choppers prompted the ethnic Albanian villagers to cheer wildly, waving their arms to encourage "their" airforce.
Further illustration of this Albanian sentiment toward US aircraft can be found at the UCK brigade headquarters, just outside Tetovo. Here the security platoon wear T-shirts emblazoned with a Nike logo and the phrase, "NATO Air Just do it!"
On the other side of this conflict, the woefully equipped Macedonian forces have been hard-pressed to field a credible fighting force. In order to obtain a peaceful secession from Yugoslavia in 1992, the fledgling Republic of Macedonia agreed to turn over all the federal military assets to Serbia/Montenegro. As a result of their bankrupt treasury and slumping economy, Macedonia did not put a priority on re-equipping an army.
However, once the Albanian guerillas began their insurgency in March of this year, the Macedonians had no choice but to rapidly enhance their tiny security forces. Over the past six months, there has been a tremendous infusion of modern weaponry (and mercenary "advisors") into Macedonia, with the bulk of support coming from Ukraine.
At the height of last week's fighting, both George Robertson and Javier Solana respectively the NATO and European Union Secretary Generals made personal entreaties to the Ukraine to cut off this vital military aid. Given such interference, it is little wonder that the Macedonian majority have staged violent anti-NATO riots, attacking embassies and McDonald's restaurants over the past several weeks.
Scott Taylor is editor of Esprit de Corps magazine and writes for the Canadian press."
Thanks to Benjamin Works of the Strategic Issues Research Institute of the US (SIRIUS).
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