Late last week, ethnic Albanian nationalists crossed the border from Kosovo into Slav-dominated Macedonia and seized control of some western zones. The guerrillas also infiltrated Serbian territory. Macedonia, the only part of the former Yugoslavia to avoid sectarian bloodshed, has requested military aid from the West to deal with the insurgence. NATO initially refused to intervene, because the K-FOR peacekeeping force’s mandate limits it to operations inside Kosovo’s borders, but it now offers “indirect” assistance such as military information and financial aid. (For a primer on the situation in Macedonia, check out this article in Britain’s Guardian.)
The British press was remarkably unified in its recommendations: Take military action now, or face the consequences. The Independent declared, “Governments must not repeat the mistake that they made throughout the past decade in the Balkans, where failure to act at an early stage only made things worse.” The editorial said that despite the rebels’ efforts to suggest otherwise, the situation in democratic Macedonia is very different from that in Kosovo under Slobodan Milosevic. The Independent also carried a fascinating tick-tock by its Tetovo-based correspondent John Sweeney that described the conflict’s beginnings:
The latest violence was sparked last Wednesday, when a hard-line Albanian demonstration was rounded off by rebel fighters, in the hills above the town, shooting into the air. Hearing this, in the town below, the crowd took up the forbidden chant of the rebel UCK, or National Liberation Army. … At this, the Macedonian army went bonkers, firing up into the hills with abandon. Since then, the situation has wobbled further out of control. [T]here has been a lot of bang-bang and very little evidence of dying. But … you can feel the killing coming.
A couple of papers blamed the weak NATO response on American nervousness. The conservative Daily Telegraph said British officers working in the Balkans are claiming the U.S. military is in the grips of “body-bag syndrome.” Although U.S. soldiers are “superbly equipped” and “highly motivated,” Europeans expressed “frustration with the perception that American commanders are under intense political pressure not to shed soldiers’ blood.” The Guardian said:
Even very limited engagement in Macedonia would involve some risk—anathema to the politically “risk-averse” Americans. Engaging in Macedonia would resurrect that favourite US spectre of the 1990s, the “Balkan quagmire.” But engagement in Macedonia, even if the US stays out of it and the British take the lead … will not be allowed for fear of a backlash in Kosovo and because, in this Nato alliance of equals, Washington calls the shots.
The Daily Telegraph argued that NATO has a “moral obligation” to aggressively patrol the border and to thwart rebel movements into Macedonia, since that country “harboured ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo during Serbian ethnic cleansing, and its territory now provides logistical support” to NATO troops. Meanwhile, the Moscow Times published a blistering editorial blaming NATO for the guerrillas’ successes and suggesting that the CIA “secretly supported and trained the ethnic Albanian extremists now behind the insurgencies in Macedonia.” Noting official U.S. comments that “Macedonia has yet to seize the attention of the new administration,” the editorial concluded:
With a rag-tag “army” of 12,000 or so troops and a few dozen tanks, Macedonia is looking for help. And with NATO unwilling or unable to use its 35,000 troops in the area, and the new U.S. president still learning geography, that duty may fall upon Russia. Putin says something must be done, even if by force. But if Russia finds itself involved in another mountain war against Islamic rebels—this time in the heart of Europe—Washington will have no one else but itself to blame for having to be taught how “to handle” its own proxies.
Here’s to you, Ms. Robinson: The Swiss press lamented Mary Robinson’s decision not to seek a second term as U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights when her term expires in September. The Tribune de Genève, published in the city the former Irish president has called home since she took the U.N. position in 1997, observed: “Everyone in the field acknowledged her very Irish courage mixed with Anglo-Saxon tenacity. … With Bush’s accession to power coming after Putin’s and being followed by Ariel Sharon’s in Israel, this isn’t an auspicious time for human rights.” Le Temps, also published in Geneva, was disheartened to note that when “Robinson spoke out for economic and social rights … the West’s support gradually waned,” and when she charged that political rights were being violated, “governments did their best to deny her the funds she needed.” As far as an Irish Times op-ed was concerned, bureaucracy and inadequate funding are responsible for her departure. It concluded, “Can tyrants and despots, bullies and fanatical ideologues sleep easier at night now that she is giving up her UN role? The answer, both from herself and those who know her, is decidedly in the negative: you don’t get rid of Mary Robinson that easily.”
The ghost in the condom machine: Soon after Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post moved its offices earlier this month, staffers reported strange goings-on in the women’s bathroom: One staffer heard a voice calling her name, and an artist heard a noise “like a sigh or heavy breathing.” So, the paper brought in Buddhist monks to perform a ghost-cleansing ceremony. One of the monks said he “had felt a presence in the female toilets.” He told the paper, “There is a strong sense of spirits of the nether world inside. There is simply an absence of life in that room, like a vacuum.”
Kangaroo sales jump: The Guardian reports that in the wake of the foot-and-mouth and mad cow disease health scares, the demand for kangaroo meat is going through the roof, making the “kangaroo industry” the fastest-growing rural business in Australia. The meat was described by no less an authority than Le Monde of France as “healthy, tender, and low in fat and cholesterol”; according to the Guardian, it tastes “a little bit like deer.” A spokesman for the Kangaroo Industry of Australia told the paper, “It is environmentally wise for us in Australia to produce our food from animals that belong here, rather than use introduced exotics like sheep and cattle which cause considerable environmental damage.”