CEOL - Macedonia Blocks Kosovo Convoys In Bid To Get More Aid

PRISTINA, Nov 10, 1999 -- (AFP) Macedonia is blocking vital humanitarian aid to Kosovo in a bid to exert pressure on the international community for reconstruction support and long-term investment, western sources said Wednesday.

The measures are a "clear sign of bad will" on Skopje's part and linked to a strategy of non-cooperation aimed at forcing more investment in Macedonia, which was hit hard by the Kosovo crisis, said international sources close to the border issue who wished to remain anonymous.

"There is a lot of jealousy, probably legitimate, that Macedonia is not getting enough" of the international aid being poured into the Balkans following the March-June war to drive Serbian forces out of Kosovo.

But the measures have also crippled key humanitarian aid being shipped across Kosovo's southern border said Peter Kessler, spokesman for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.

"Late last week the Macedonian police began requiring that all humanitarian traffic -- including food aid and shelter supplies -- join the normal line of commercial trucks" he said.

Police are also demanding a tax of 200 German Marks for each aid vehicle he said.

Other sources said the taxes demanded are arbitrary and change from day to day, with truck drivers unsure if they are paying official fees or being merely exploited by border guards.

Vehicles carrying medical aid and perishable food are exempt from the charges, the UNHCR said.

A truck takes between five and seven days to cross the frontier. The UNHCR said 56 World Food Program lorries were blocked at the border, as well as 25 of its own, more than half of which were carrying wood for rebuilding.

The World Food Program and Food for Peace feed some 900,000 Kosovars every day, Kessler said.

The U.N. Special Representative for Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, will bring up the issue with the Macedonian foreign minister who visits Pristina at the end of the week.

The UNHCR and other aid agencies are considering transporting goods by train.

Western sources said the blockage was also linked to Macedonia's elections, the second round of which are to be held this weekend.

Macedonia's delicate ethnic balance between Slavic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians was threatened by the exodus of Kosovo refugees during the war, allowing Slavic Macedonians to cash in on votes by playing the anti-Kosovo card, international sources said.

But they warned that by the time the elections are over and progress can be made the narrow roads may well be blocked by snow, further hindering access.

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