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Macedonia: Turmoil Intensifies As Authorities Accuse The West Of Collaboration

  • Jolyon Naegele

Macedonians attacked government offices, Western embassies and businesses in Skopje during the night as security forces continued to battle ethnic Albanian rebels in Tetovo to the west of the capital, Skopje. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports that Macedonian authorities are accusing the West of collaborating with the Albanian rebels.

Prague, 25 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Refusal by Macedonian political leaders last week to accept the international community's proposed settlement on the issue of Albanian-language rights set off a chain of events that has resulted in death and destruction.

After the two main Macedonian political parties accepted the peace plan, the Macedonian government rejected it, objecting to giving the Albanian language any special rights.

The Albanian insurgent National Liberation Army, or UCK, has responded since 22 July by moving forward its positions around Tetovo and by seizing control of all or parts of six ethnic Macedonian-inhabited villages -- Lesok, Neprosteno, Zilce, Tearce, Vratnica, and Rataje -- along the main road between Tetovo and the border crossing with Kosovo at Jazince.

More than 30 people were injured between Sunday and Tuesday (22-24 July). Macedonian news media report two people were killed -- a 12-year-old Albanian girl and a Macedonian man.

However, the mayor of Tetovo, Murtezan Ismaili, told RFE/RL's Albanian unit today that 11 Albanian civilians have been killed in the last two days:

"Eight [of the dead] are from Poroj, one each from Slatina, Tearce, and Lesok."

Ismaili says there is fear of what will happen in the coming hours, particularly because of what he describes as armed Macedonian paramilitary fighters in civilian clothes who are in Tetovo and, as he puts it, "behaving vulgarly."

Overnight and this morning (25 July), Macedonian security forces shelled Albanian-inhabited hillside villages overlooking Tetovo, setting several houses on fire.

Zylqyfli Ajvazi is the mayor of the nearby mountain village of Sipkovica. He tells RFE/RL's Albanian unit there is complete confusion among the population of the area:

"In the village of Gajre in particular, 90 percent of the houses have been destroyed. The situation is relatively calm now, but it remains very tense because of the artillery shelling."

The conflict no longer is limited to the mountain villages but is now in Tetovo, one of Macedonia's largest cities. A UCK commander speaking to the German news agency dpa today by telephone, on condition of anonymity, said his forces cannot allow Macedonians to shell civilian targets in the city of Tetovo. He said the UCK intends to protect the civilian population and, if necessary, to take control of the town.

Local news reports say that the rebels attacked Tetovo's police station, fire station, and army barracks Tuesday (24 July) evening. In Berlin today, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer issued a statement accusing the UCK of breaking a 19-day-old internationally brokered cease-fire. Fischer said the German government condemns the break in the cease-fire by what he called "armed extremists of Albanian origin" in Tetovo and other parts of northern Macedonia.

Fischer also condemned the UCK's attempts to expel the Macedonian population of the Tetovo region. He called "absolutely unacceptable" the displacement of Macedonians from their homes through the most recent attacks by the UCK.

Macedonian state-run TV Tuesday night said that "the most likely purpose of this war is to ethnically cleanse the area of all Macedonians."

Also yesterday, several hundred displaced residents of the six occupied villages went to Skopje, where they gathered in front of the parliament building. The crowd first hurled epithets at the authorities for inaction and demanded to know why the army had failed to defend them. They then threw stones at the parliament building.

"We've got nothing left. We defended ourselves [alone] all night long from the guns."

The displaced Macedonians formed a 12-member coordinating body which met with the interior and defense ministers and secured a promise that they would be able to return to their homes by mid-day today (25 July).

Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski and Interior Minister Ljube Boskoski subsequently issued a statement saying that unless the rebels pull out to their previous positions by noon (local and Prague time) Wednesday, the Macedonian government will no longer listen to suggestions from Western mediators.

Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski sent an open letter on 24 July to President Boris Trajkovski calling on him as commander-in-chief to give the necessary orders for a government offensive.

Late last night, local residents marched on the army general staff headquarters and then attacked the diplomatic missions of the United States, Britain, Germany, and Greece. They attacked businesses, including McDonald's and British Airways, and pastry shops, traditionally owned by Albanians and Bosnians. The demonstrators also torched vehicles belonging to the UN and the OSCE.

Government spokesman Antonio Milososki accused the West on 24 July of coordinating activities with the UCK.

"Ethnic cleansing, the murder of civilians and the murder of servicemen of the Macedonian security forces are the direct result of the not-entirely-secret cooperation of the West with the [Albanian] paramilitary units."

EU foreign policy and security high representative Javier Solana, currently in the Middle East, denied Milososki's allegation today. He said, "What we are trying, as the European Union in Macedonia, is to help the country to help the people of the country."

Solana will be traveling to Skopje with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson tomorrow, one week after the two officials canceled a visit following the Macedonian government's rejection of the international community's peace plan.

In another attempt to show their displeasure, Macedonian authorities closed the border with Kosovo yesterday, preventing vehicles and personnel from KFOR, the UN, and other international organizations from crossing.