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Macedonia: Army Declares Cease-Fire After UCK Ultimatum

  • Jolyon Naegele

The Macedonian government today declared a unilateral, temporary cease-fire in its more than three-month-old fight with the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army, or UCK. But the government is denying that it called the cease-fire in response to the latest Albanian rebel ultimatum. RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele reports the UCK says it will respect the cease-fire.

Prague, 11 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army, or UCK, says it will accept the Macedonian government's unilateral, temporary cease-fire.

The UCK's chief spokesman, Dren Korabi, says the rebels stand by their cease-fire offer of last Thursday (7 June) according to which they would only fire if attacked.

Presidential National Security Adviser Nikola Dimitrov told reporters in Skopje the cease-fire is intended to enable the restoration of water supplies to the district of Kumanovo as well as for food to reach the besieged ethnic Albanian village of Lipkovo. The Kumanovo area has been without water for days since the UCK stopped the flow from a key reservoir.

Dimitrov insists the government is not backing down in the face of a rebel ultimatum.

The sudden announcement of the cease-fire followed a series of clearly worded warnings by a commander of the ethnic Albanian fighters, known simply as Hoxha.

Hoxha warned that Macedonian forces must desist from shelling Albanian villages or else face a further escalation of the conflict.

"If [Prime Minister] Ljubco Georgievski does not stop harming our people, we will strike Skopje. He had the weapons [aimed at ethnic Albanian villages] before and he used them. Now I've got weapons [within range of Skopje], so why shouldn't I shoot against him? We have 120mm artillery pieces and we have rockets, too. We will fire on the airport, the country's sole oil refinery, the government building, the parliament, and police posts. We will shoot every place where there are police. Not from Aracinovo, but from positions higher in the mountains."

Aracinovo is known as Haraqina by the ethnic Albanians, who make up about 90 percent of the large farming village's inhabitants, variously estimated at between 6,500 and 13,000. It is perched on a slope within sight of Skopje, some 10 km to the southwest, with the international airport to the southeast.

Hoxha said the attacks would not start immediately but that the security forces had to stop bombarding "our Albanian homes."

Hoxha made his remarks in an interview yesterday (10 June) with RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, after having issued a virtually identical ultimatum in an interview with RFE/RL's Albanian unit a few days earlier. He told reporters over the weekend that his forces in Aracinovo are armed with anti-aircraft rockets and mortar launchers.

Before the Macedonian army declared a cease-fire today, Hoxha had told the Reuters news agency that he was waiting for orders to strike at Skopje. The Macedonian security forces had "not only ignored our warning but have also wounded civilians. So they have to hear our guns now." He said the shelling wounded five Albanian civilians in the village of Lipkovo.

In an interview with "The Washington Post" published today, Hoxha said: "The message is that so far, this war has caused harm just to Albanians. Now, it's time to share it." On 7 June, ethnic Albanian fighters for the first time shelled a Macedonian village, Cresevo, eight km northeast of Skopje.

The pro-government daily "Vecer" today quoted Interior Ministry officials as saying the militant National Liberation Army, or UCK, was unlikely to carry out its threats because this would only strengthen the international community's condemnation of the UCK.

But four European airlines providing services to Skopje -- Swissair, Greece's Olympic Airline, British Airways, and Yugoslavia's JAT -- took the threats seriously enough to cancel their flights today. The northern end of the airport is used both by the Macedonian air force, which bases its helicopter fleet there, and by U.S., German, and Italian troops belonging to the NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping force, KFOR.

Until today's mid-day cease-fire, Macedonian security forces had continued shelling the villages of Slupcane, Orizare, and Matejce, all west of the town of Kumanovo, where fighting erupted early last month (3 May).

Refugees continued to pour out of the area. Some 10,000 crossed into Kosovo over the weekend. Aracinovo's Mayor Reshat Ferati was among those who left the village. He spoke last night to RFE/RL's Albanian unit.

"The situation is very difficult. All this started after a confrontation with the Macedonian forces in the western part of Aracinovo on the Skopje road. That's the main reason why people are leaving. What's more, we don't have electricity and the phone lines are cut. The village is cut off from civilization. So we are facing a humanitarian crisis since those still in Aracinovo are without water, food, or the bare necessities." Ferati said that as of yesterday, half the population was still in the village.

In another development, Prime Minister Georgievski -- who heads the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party -- agreed over the weekend with his chief rival, Social Democratic -- or SDSM -- leader Branko Crvenkovski, to work out a common policy in resolving the security crisis.

The Social Democrat-oriented daily "Dnevnik" quotes unnamed SDSM leaders as interpreting the accord to mean that Georgievski has given up any intention of resolving the conflict militarily. But VMRO-DPMNE officials see the accord as meaning that so-called "efficient" military action is still acceptable.

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