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Reactions in Macedonia to Arrival of U.S. GIs Run the Gamut

July 13, 1993

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) _ The government of this small and obscure country is grateful for the arrival of U.S. troops whose aim is to prevent fighting such as that which has ravaged much of former Yugoslavia. Not so for many suspicious Skopje residents.

The 300 troops, the last of whom arrived Monday, are the first U.S. combat unit to wear the blue berets of U.N. peacekeepers.

The 700 Scandinavian troops who have been in Macedonia since January have a similar mission: patrolling the border of Macedonia and Serbia, the dominant province of what’s left of Yugoslavia.

That frontier has been quiet but Macedonian and Western analysts agree on the need to deter possible aggression against a region that Serb nationalists consider ″southern Serbia.″

Macedonia seceded peacefully from the crumbling Yugoslav federation in 1991. But it has failed to gain international recognition because of Greece’s objections to its name, and government officials hope that the arrival of the Americans would help speed recognition.

Athens claims that the name Macedonia implies territorial pretensions toward the northern Greek province of the same name. Although in April the United States supported Macedonia’s membership in the United Nations, it has also not officially recognized the new state.

″The arrival of the troops makes U.S. recognition much more certain,″ President Kiro Gligorov said in a recent interview.

″This event shows that the international community has finally verified the status of Macedonia as a peace-loving nation,″ declared a commentary on government-run Macedonian television.

But not all Macedonians appeared happy with the deployment of the Americans.

Most vocal in their opposition were representatives of the republic’s ethnic Serb minority. Serbs account for about 20,000 of Macedonia’s 2 million people.

″The claim that the threat to this republic comes from the north is entirely unacceptable to us,″ said Stevo Stojanovic, secretary of the Serbian Union of Macedonia. ″We consider the arrival of the Americans as completely unnecessary and counter-productive.″

Some Skopje residents suspected that the U.S. administration had ulterior motives in sending its soldiers to Macedonia.

″I will be very happy to have the Americans here, but only if they remain within the framework of the United Nations,″ said travel agent Hristo Filip. ″It would not be good if they came in order to use Macedonia as a platform for attacks on other states.″

Many people appeared concerned that the U.S. military presence would be seen as a provocation by Serbia’s hardline President Slobodan Milosevic and would only make matters worse for Macedonia.

″For Milosevic they will be what a red cape is to a bull,″ said Ljupce Lalevski, an unemployed economist. ″And if the bull charges, it will suddenly turn out that the U.S. soldiers do not have a mandate to defend us.″

Macedonian defense officials concede their small army of 14,000 inexperienced recruits would be unable to prevent a determined thrust from the north by Serbia’s battle-hardened units.

″In the end, the Americans can only cause more trouble for us,″ said shopkeeper Dobro Cvetkovski.

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