Dialogue Urged Following Violence in Macedonia

Bishop Proposes Direct Negotiations Involving Albanians

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PRIZREN, Macedonia, MAR. 16, 2001 (ZENIT.orgFIDES).- Bishop Marko Sopi of Skopje-Prizren says the only way to avoid war in Macedonia is through direct negotiations among the internal political forces.

The confrontations of the past three days between Macedonian forces and Albanian guerrillas around Tetovo worsened today, according to Stevo Pendarovski, spokesman of the Macedonian Ministry of the Interior. Reports said an Orthodox Christian Church of the Slav Macedonia community was damaged by a mortar grenade thrown by the Albanian “terrorists,” as the Interior Ministry describes them.

Bishop Sopi told the news agency Fides that he is neither a “politician nor a military expert, but I have certain pastoral responsibilities. And I believe the only solution is to find ways for peaceful talks between Macedonia´s political leaders and the consistent Albanian component of the population, who are demanding recognition and guarantee of rights. The government must find a solution; until now the problem has never been tackled realistically. Perhaps the political groups, which also include Albanians, were not mature enough, but now a spirit of negotiation must prevail.”

Ethnic Albanians were battling with police in Tetovo, Macedonia´s second largest center, causing thousands to flee the city. The bishop, at present in Kosovo, explained that “Macedonia is not Kosovo,” to emphasize that the situation in Macedonia is quite different.

It is urgent to identity the total number of Albanians in Macedonia, he said. “That is not easy,” Bishop Sopi told Fides. “Official figures say 23%, but other sources say 40%. Albanian representatives are rightly calling for a census with international monitoring. Hence the need to reach an agreement to avoid armed conflict.”

The Albanian guerrillas´ advance is seen with anxiety by the European Union. NATO, the United States and Russia have also expressed concern. The neighboring Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has sent troops to the border to maintain security.

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