Albanians in Macedonia want to live in peace

TETOVO, Macedonia, Sep 13, 2000 -- (AFP) A key leader of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, who account for more than one quarter of the population, on Tuesday played down concerns that demands for autonomy could spark ethnic violence.

"We never had plans to create an Albanian state, a greater Albania," Arben Dzaferi, who heads the Democratic Party of Albanians told AFP in an interview in Tetovo.

"That's a Serb product to satanize Albanian people" he said in an office covered with stickers proclaiming "Independence for Kosovo."

A greater Albania, a spectre which has again come to the forefront of regional fears in the wake of the Kosovo war, could join together Kosovo, Albania, and the Albanian parts of Macedonia.

Macedonia's ethnic Albanians strongly support an independent Kosovo, which has raised fears among Macedonians for their own country's integrity and ethnic balance.

They fear their own Slav population, which makes up more than two thirds of the country, would be turned into an enclave by the creation of a greater Albania.

Dzaferi said he supported "pluralism in society, democratization and ... diversity."

"The main issue ... is that I am still able to convince the people that this direction is a productive direction. And the people are giving me the votes, because my determination prevents a conflict in Macedonia," he said.

Most Albanians are concentrated in the west of the country near the border with Albania, though a large number also live in the capital Skopje.

But he said he understood Macedonian concerns over the Albanian quest for recognition.

Albanians, whom he says number more than a third of the population here,

"are seen as dangerous because they are oriented towards separatist activities," he said.

Dzaferi said there was still a huge gap between the two communities in regards to ethnic relations, saying that "mixed marriages (here) are less than one percent."

Experts have warned about the danger of violence in Macedonia, and Dzaferi said "if we decide on a self-determination vote, we could cause a war in Macedonia.

He made implicit references to recent wars in the Balkans, such as the 1992-1995 Bosnian war and the Serbo-Croatian conflict from 1991-1995.

During the Kosovo war in 1999, Macedonia virtually closed its borders with Kosovo, fearing that a huge influx of refugees could unbalance its population and spark ethnic unrest.

Original article