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Thursday, February 25, 1999 Published at 16:04 GMT

World: Europe

Analysis: What price Macedonian peace?

Fighting in Kosovo gave Unpredep a new lease of life

By South-East Europe Analyst Gabriel Partos

China's veto on extending the UN force in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia (Fyrom) follows repeated warnings from Beijing that Macedonia would be punished for its recent move to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

So what will happen to the peacekeepers in Macedonia?

The UN Preventive Deployment Force, Unpredep, was deployed in Macedonia in 1992 to stop the conflict in other parts of the former Yugoslavia from spilling over into the insecure newly-independent state.

The 1,000-strong force was cut by a third after the Dayton peace accords on Bosnia-Hercegovina and plans were afoot to bring Unpredep's mission to an end last year.

It was the fighting in neighbouring Kosovo - whose potential direct impact on Macedonia remains much greater than Bosnia ever was - that gave Unpredep a fresh lease of life.

And instead of winding down the peacekeeping contingent, last August the UN restored its size to its original strength.

New diplomatic ties

Until a month ago, everything seemed set for a further, automatic six-month extension of Unpredep's mandate.

But then Macedonia and Taiwan announced that they had established diplomatic relations; in the case of Macedonia, in the hope of securing large-scale Taiwanese financial assistance.

The move infuriated China which routinely breaks off relations with countries that establish diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

And after the Macedonian authorities refused to back down, Beijing severed its diplomatic relations with Skopje.

China's veto to extend the mandate is a heavy blow to Macedonia, particularly at a time when diplomatic attempts at Rambouillet to secure a settlement in Kosovo have suffered a setback.

Nato at hand

On the other hand, Macedonia's security has been boosted over the past two months by the deployment in the country of an 1,800-strong Nato extraction force whose primary task is to protect international observers who are based in Kosovo.

The extraction force is much better armed than Unpredep, and it could spearhead the deployment of a large Nato-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo which, in turn, would greatly boost Macedonia's stability.

US contingent

But agreement has yet to be reached on a Kosovo peacekeeping force; and in the meantime the phasing out of Unpredep looks almost certain to get underway on 1 March.

Unpredep may be weaker than Nato's extraction force, but its mandate is focused on Macedonia, not Kosovo.

And crucially, one-third of its strength consists of a US contingent - unlike the European extraction force - which gives Macedonia additional guarantees of American help in time of trouble.

Skopje's hope now is that Unpredep can be replaced by a non-UN force in which the ex-Unpredep troops can be attached in some way to Nato's extraction force.

Alternatively, it could be re-formed as a stand-alone unit - perhaps under a different banner.

And if Macedonia's links with Taiwan remain low-key, China may prove accommodating.

For example, it might allow the kind of compromise solution which was reached over the proposed UN missions in Guatemala and Haiti, both of which it had initially vetoed because of these countries' links with Taiwan.

On the other hand, China's hostility to Macedonia is unlikely to stop at Unpredep. Since it joined the UN, Skopje has been campaigning to have itself recognised as the Republic of Macedonia - to replace its current convoluted name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Beijing is unlikely to give in on this while Skopje maintains diplomatic ties with Taipei.

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25 Feb 99 | Europe
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