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News 03 Oct 17

US Urges Accountability for Macedonia Wiretapping

Establishing who was responsible for alleged mass wiretapping is critical for Macedonia's aspirations to join NATO and the EU, said US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Yee.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Hoyt Yee in Skopje. Archive photo: MIA

Establishing accountability for the illegal mass surveillance allegedly conducted under Macedonia’s previous government will be a "critical step" towards the country convincing the European Union and NATO that it is ready to join, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Yee told Alsat M TV on Monday.

"We call on all actors... to do what they can to ensure that justice is done, the rule of law is observed, that the Special Prosecutor [set up to investigate high-level crimes] is given the support necessary to do its job and that there is not political pressure, influence over the prosecutors, over the judges," Yee said in an interview on the ‘360 Degrees’ political show.

Asked to comment on the fact that none of the 20 cases launched by the Special Prosecution against officials from the previous VMRO DPMNE party-led government have yet come to a legal conclusion in courts, Yee said that these cases must not drag for a long time.

Yee also spoke about the importance of judicial reform that would ensure rule of law and trust in the country’s institutions.

But he noted that the new government led by the Social Democrats, which came to office in March, is "still relatively new", and that the US will support it.

"Our intention is to continue working very closely with this new government, help them make the changes by assistance, doing whatever we can to help the government move forward," Yee said.

He called on the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party to play a constructive role in the reforms ahead.

"We look forward to VMRO, to all parties in parliament, to play a constructive role, to seek compromise where there are disagreements," Yee said.

"We'll be watching very closely, I think the EU will do as well, and for those parties or individuals who are clearly obstructing for the sake of obstructing or for personal or other intentions, we will hold them accountable," he added.

The US official praised the recent signing of a friendship agreement between Macedonia and neighbouring Bulgaria and the new Macedonian government's commitment towards strengthening ties with neighbours in general in order to remove obstacles to its membership of NATO and the EU.

He said he was an optimist about a possible solution to the longstanding ‘name’ dispute with Greece.

"We are optimistic that if both sides continue to operate with goodwill, looking for solutions, it will be possible for Macedonia and Greece to find a solution for the name issue and for Macedonia to move forward with its goal of joining NATO," he said.

Yee strongly dismissed past allegations by former Prime Minister and VMRO leader Nikola Gruevski that the new Prime Minister Zoran Zaev of the Social Democrats was elected because of a Western conspiracy to make Macedonia give concessions to Greece on the name issue.

The US official also warned against what he called Russia's "malign" influence in the Balkans, urging Macedonia and other countries in the region to strengthen their resilience by building stronger independent media and decreasing their energy and arms supply reliance on Russia.

"In the Balkans we have seen, unfortunately over the past year, Russian activities, malign influence, the worst case being Montenegro, where Russia attempted to interfere with the elections and probably much worse. We see Russia trying to discourage the accession of countries in the Western Balkans to NATO and also to the EU," Yee said.

He said that while the US is not questioning a legitimate Russian role in Europe, the Western Balkan countries should be left free to decide on their future security alliances and strengthen their resilience against various misinformation coming from Russia and elsewhere.

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