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USAID Launches Bid to Bridge Macedonian Divide

March 14, 2012

The United States Agency for International Development, USAID, on Tuesday launched a project in Skopje to unite children of different ethnic backgrounds.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Skopje

The USAID project, though long in the pipeline, has taken on a new relevance following last week’s upsurge in ethnically motivated incidents between country’s Macedonians and Albanians.

The aim is to encourage municipalities to set up multiethnic school classes by offering financial assistance to renovate school buildings as well as training awareness in teachers, students and parents.

The  interethnic education project, costed at more than 5 million US dollars, is to be implemented in some 40 elementary and high schools across the country, which are to be renovated.

The violence of last week “stresses the need for projects such as this one that promote ethnic harmony”, Brian Aggeler, the US embassy deputy chief of mission in Skopje said, in Skopje.

The Macedonian government supports the project, the Vice Prime Minister, Musa Xhaferi, said at the same event.

In 2001, Macedonia suffered a short-lived armed conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and the security forces.

The conflict ended that year with the signing of the Ohrid Peace Deal, an internationally brokered accord guaranteeing greater rights to the Albanians who make up about a quarter of the population of 2.1 million.

But ethnic divisions in Macedonia remain strong and are particularly pronounced in the educational system in which there is little or no contact between ethnic Macedonian and Albanian students.

Last week saw a spate of ethnic-related attacks on buses and in streets in Skopje and in other towns, which alarmed both the authorities and the international community.

The attacks were almost exclusively the work of youngsters, although some observers suspect there is a political background to the attacks.

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