CEOL - Outgoing Macedonian Leader Warns Nato On Kosovo

SKOPJE, Nov 20, 1999 -- (Reuters) Macedonia's outgoing president urged the international community on Friday to ensure that Kosovo remained in Yugoslavia, warning that almost every European country "has a Kosovo of its own".

Kiro Gligorov, 83, who led Macedonia to peaceful secession from socialist Yugoslavia, ended his term by saying NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo should not be used to legalize the secession of the province which has an ethnic Albanian majority.

"We think Kosovo must remain in Yugoslavia with the highest possible autonomy," said Gligorov, a moderate politician who has kept a lid on tensions between Macedonia's Orthodox majority and the large ethnic Albanian minority.

"This is not only in the interest of Macedonia, but of Europe as well, where almost every country has a Kosovo of its own," Gligorov said in a farewell speech.

"NATO...should not use its powerful machinery in the support of separatist or secessionist movements," Gligorov said.

He was addressing members of parliament, foreign diplomats and religious representatives after nine years in power and two presidential terms. The constitution barred him from another term.

During Gligorov's rule, Macedonia came under U.N. and NATO protection from neighboring Serbia which fought undeclared wars with two other former Yugoslav republics, Croatia and Bosnia, and later with ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo.

NATO soldiers entered Kosovo via Macedonia in June after the alliance had bombed Yugoslavia for 11 weeks to stop repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

"NATO entered Kosovo in order to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, not only in Kosovo but in neighboring countries as well, provoked by a large number of refugees," Gligorov said.

But he warned: "This should not be used today or in the years to come, to legalize the current situation in Kosovo where practically all ties with Belgrade (the Yugoslav and Serbian capital) have been broken."

Gligorov was departing amid rising ethnic tensions after Macedonia's Socialist opposition charged the ruling center-rightist VMRO-DPMNE party with using ethnic Albanian votes to rig presidential elections.

Gligorov's Social Democratic party, whose candidate lost the election to center-right candidate Boris Trajkovski, lodged dozens of complaints focussed on areas inhabited by Albanians.

The constitutional court ruled on Friday that parliament Speaker Savo Klimovski would succeed Gligorov as acting head of state until the electoral commission dealt with the complaints.

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]