In 2001, Macedonia once again stood at the precipice of armed conflict. Beginning in February, an ethnic Albanian separatist movement known as the National Liberation Army (NLA) began attacking government security forces near the Kosovan border. After a relatively brief clash around the town of Tetovo, the fighting halted for a month, before erupting at a much greater scale in May.1 As much of the NLA’s personnel and equipment was travelling across the mountainous border with Kosovo, the crisis presented a very real possibly of escalating into a much larger regional conflict.
The first step to resolving the crisis was (once again) taken by Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) High Commissioner on National Minorities Max Van der Stoel, who issued repeated early warnings of the potential for conflict.2 As a result, European leaders invited the Macedonian president to a conference in Stockholm in March 2001 to discuss the crisis. Efforts to pressure the government to find a peaceful solution were undermined by the inability of Macedonian political parties to form a stable national governing coalition. By chance, Paddy Ashdown (British politician and future High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina) was already in the region and quickly moved to assess the situation. After meeting with the NLA leadership, he began conveying their demands to the European leaders gathered in Stockholm.3 With dialogue started, a range of international organisations and national governments moved to resolve the crisis. EU officials in Kosovo gathered statements from local leaders condemning the violence before travelling to Skopje and convincing the Macedonian parliament to resume talks. In June, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) approved the deployment of 3,000 troops to oversee the de-escalation process in the case that a deal was struck.4 NATO Secretary-General George Robertson then mediated negotiations alongside representatives of the EU and the Government of the USA.5 The negotiations culminated with the signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement on 13 August 2001.6 The Agreement stipulated a range of reforms that were aimed at making Macedonia a more inclusive place to live for its ethnic Albanian population. NATO troops disarmed the NLA personnel, the OSCE helped to strengthen existing peace infrastructure such as the Committees for Inter-Community Relations, and the EU approved funding for a range of development projects.7 Once again, war in Macedonia was prevented.