Saturday, September 16, 2006

EU warns Macedonia on Albanian minority rights deal

The EU has urged the new government of candidate member state Macedonia to respect the a 2001 agreement on Albanian minority rights if it wants to stay on track in its EU accession bid, Balkans news agency DTT-NET reports.

EU foreign policy commissioner Javier Solana and EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn met Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday (13 September), amid concern over looming instability in the country with ethnic Albanians challenging Skopje's new centre-right government.

"I hope very much that he will have good luck in the determination he has to move the country forward. I have asked him to move forward in the application of the Ohrid Agreement that for us [the EU] is a fundamental element," Mr Solana said.

The June 2001 Ohrid Agreement – brokered by EU and NATO diplomacy - ended seven months of heavy fighting between Albanian separatists and Macedonian security forces in Macedonia.

But Mr Gruevski's centre-right VMRO-DPMNE opposed the Ohrid agreement legislation adopted by the previous government led by the centre-left.

The EU has now told the Macedonian leader that the Ohrid legislation is a key component of reforms for Macedonia's road to EU membership. Skopje last December scooped official EU candidate membership status and will be subject to a key progress report in November.

Commissioner Rehn on Tuesday said that disputes with ethnic Albanians must be resolved by a political dialogue between his cabinet and the main ethnic Albanian party - the Democratic Union of Integration (DUI).

"It is important to have a broad political consensus on a country's road to EU membership. The government and opposition must show the willingness for political dialogue that one can expect from a mature democratic country such as the Republic of Macedonia ", Mr Rehn told reporters.

"They must dance this tango together and create the necessary channels of communication," Mr Rehn added.

After the 5 July elections won by the centre-right, Mr Gruevski chose not to form a government with the DUI which got the support of 62 percent of the ethnic Albanians, Macedonia's biggest minority.

He instead formed a coalition with the smaller Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA).

Since then, the DUI has been refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the government arguing that the voice of ethnic Albanians is being ignored.

On Monday (11 September), the former leader of the 2001 ethnic Albanian guerrilla group and current president of DUI, Ali Ahmeti, told reporters that Macedonia could enter into "a dangerous situation" amid strong dissatisfaction among most Albanians that their preferred party, the DUI, has been excluded from the new government.

DUI officials said the first draft related to minorities that Mr Gruevski's government has prepared - on the police sector - is aiming at centralisation by removing competencies from municipal police to newly designed regional authorities - contrary to the goal of decentralisation in the Ohrid Agreement.

"The draft-law on the police sector clearly demonstrates that VMRO-DPMNE led government's first priority is to strengthen the competences of the central government on the sector which is against the provisions of the Ohrid Agreement," senior DUI politician and former deputy prime minister Musa Xhaferi told DTT-NET.COM.

Mr Xhaferi said the majority of Ethnic Albanians "have no trust" for the current government led by the party which "during the last four years has voted against all the legislation related to the Ohrid Agreement and also had organised a referendum in 2004 against the self-rule rights at municipal level - which failed."

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