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Swiss ambassador to Macedonia "confident" conflict will end

Macedonians protest outside parliament at what they see as concessions to ethnic Albanians

(Keystone)

The Swiss ambassador to Macedonia, Stephan Nellen, says he is confident that an all-out civil war can be avoided in the Balkan country, despite scepticism that Nato forces in the country will not be able to disarm ethnic Albanian rebels.

Nellen was interviewed by swissinfo in Bern, where he attended a week-long meeting of Swiss ambassadors from around the world.

"We have to believe that there is a solution to the situation in Macedonia," Nellen said. "We must be optimistic and we have to work on that basis, because there is no other way."

The Swiss government's representative in Skopje called on the Macedonian authorities to continue peace efforts once the collection of weapons from Albanian rebels is complete.

Nato's task in Macedonia, Nellen argues, is "just a beginning", and it is vital that the government in Skopje follows up with further peace initiatives.

Protests over concessions

His comments came as some 500 Macedonians demonstrated outside parliament in Skopje on Friday to protest at what they see as government concessions to the ethnic Albanian minority.

"It is very important that the Macedonian leaders impress on their people the need and opportunities for peace, and not just focus on the crisis," Nellen said. "We have to take this element of chance...and it is time for those in charge to lead the people towards an agreement."

The ambassador also stressed that attention should be focused not on the quantity of weapons surrendered by Albanian forces, but on the fact that the decommissioning of weapons is taking place at all.

"The process of disarmament may be largely symbolic, but it is at least a symbol of confidence, and that is very important," Nellen said.

Bilateral talks

Nellen's comments come in the same week that the Macedonian foreign minister, Ilinka Mitreva, visited Bern for bilateral talks with her Swiss counterpart, Joseph Deiss.

Mitreva used the occasion to express concern about fundraising by ethnic Albanians in Switzerland, who are believed to be sending money or weapons to rebels in Macedonia.

In his comments to swissinfo Nellen said the issue of fundraising on Swiss territory has been well known to his government "from the outset of the problem".

"We have investigated this situation in Switzerland," Nellen said, "and taken appropriate measures. Countries in the European Union, by contrast, have so far taken no measures against any extremists."

Restriction order imposed

In June, the government imposed a "restriction order" on a leading Albanian activist living in Switzerland, Fazli Veliu, who is the official representative of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Veliu was threatened with expulsion from Switzerland if he were found to be fundraising or representing or supporting organisations involved in the conflict between the Macedonian government and ethnic Albanian rebels.

During his meeting with Mitreva, Deiss confirmed that the Swiss government would maintain its current SFr10 million package of aid already pledged to Macedonia.

In his comments to swissinfo, Nellen similarly stressed Switzerland's commitment to supporting Macedonia both "economically and through technical assistance".

swissinfo

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