Macedonia now coveted by 3 nations Yugoslav breakup draws new suitors

September 13, 1991|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Special to The Sun

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Yugoslavia is quickly becoming Europe's new Lebanon. Peace agreements have been ignored. Cease-fire after cease-fire has collapsed, some within minutes. A multiplying array of regional warlords have ignored the politicians.

Now ominous new developments threaten to spread the crisis beyond Yugoslavia's borders. The people of the tiny southern republic of Macedonia went to the polls Sunday and voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence, as Slovenia and Croatia already have done.

Even as jubilant Macedonians took to the streets in celebration an announcement was being made that there would be a "Balkan summit" next week in Athens, Greece. Its participants would be the leaders of Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. All three have claims on Macedonia, which became a separate republic for the first time after World War II.

The Serbs, who called Macedonia "south Serbia" until 1945 promptly served notice that they regard parts of Macedonia their ancestral lands. (Indeed, Skopje was the capital of the medieval Serbian Empire).

So did Greece, which announced it would not recognize an state bearing the name of the "ancient Greek province." The Bulgarian position was made clear by its president: Bulgarians have never recognized the Macedonians as a nation; they are Bulgars.

The three Balkan countries have fought several wars this centur over Macedonia, and there are fears the participants at next Thursday's summit will take preliminary steps toward carving up Macedonia.

According to Western diplomats, a Serbian-Greek deal o dividing Macedonia was discussed by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Greek Prime Minister Konstantin Mitsotakis in Athens earlier this year.

The possibility of Greece, a European Community and Nort Atlantic Treaty Organization member, becoming directly involved in the Yugoslav crisis would further complicate an already complex EC effort at mediation in a war that is becoming uglier and exceptionally cruel.

Nobody expected last Saturday's peace conference at Th Hague, Netherlands -- between EC foreign ministers and Yugoslavia's leaders -- to find a way to end the 2-month-old de facto war between Serbia and Croatia. Nor did it. The conference continued yesterday, but EC diplomats say privately that it is going to remain irrelevant in the absence of a cease-fire.

EC monitors who took up position in the eastern Croatian town o Osijek last weekend to observe an EC-brokered cease-fire observed instead just how brutal the fighting had become. Osijek came under heavy bombardment the past few days as

Serb militants backed by the army continued winning control of towns and villages in central and eastern Croatia.

Croatian authorities reported that more than 90 people had die and that 200 others had been seriously wounded in fighting since the EC-brokered cease-fire was signed Sept. 2. There had been, they said, 149 serious violations of the cease-fire.

Croatia's authorities ordered a curfew in 29 districts. That wa widely ignored. Yugoslavia's president, Stipe Mesic, a Croat, ordered the army back to barracks Wednesday. But the army ignored him, and the Defense Ministry said his order was not valid.

Mr. Mesic then accused the army of staging a military coup and gave it 48 hours to return to its barracks. There was no indication what he would do, or could do, if it didn't.

One question being asked is how much control the politicians now have over individual army commanders or over the increasing number of leaders of Serbian and Croatian armed units. There are fears that the warlords have created Lebanon-style mini-armies that will soon be beyond the control of politicians -- if they are not so already.

In eastern Croatia, the local Croat forces are under the effectiv command of Branimir Glavas, the Osijek warlord; on the Serbian side in that region, Serb militants are led by Arkan Raznjatovic.

Other warlords include the Australian soldier of fortune known as "Captain Dragan," who is training yet another Serbian paramilitary force southeast of Belgrade; Milan Martic, who is in charge of a 12,000-strong Serb army of Krajina (and who narrowly escaped arrest in Bosnia earlier this week); and the "Red Duke," Borislav Seselj, leader of the Chetniks commandos.

Yet another potential front is looming in the South.

The sizable Albanian population abstained from voting in last Sunday's Macedonian elections.

In the neighboring Serb-ruled province of Kosovo, unrest flared up this week when mass demonstrations were held against Serbian repression by the mainly Albanian population who would like independence. Many Kosovo Albanians would also like to join with newly democratic Albania across the border.

While Albania has not been included in the Athens summit, th Greek prime minister said he had had productive talks with the new Albanian leadership. There were speculations in Belgrade that the Albanians may be offered a part of western Macedonia in exchange for renouncing claims on Kosovo.

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