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Macedonia: New Government Tries To Clean House

  • Jolyon Naegele

In one of its first tasks, Macedonia's new government this week replaced senior police and intelligence officials. The moves coincide with the release from custody of an ethnic Albanian politician and former rebel commander whom border police had arrested in spite of an amnesty covering former fighters.

Prague, 6 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonia's new government, at its first cabinet session since taking office last week, has dismissed the heads of public security, intelligence, the customs service, and the electricity board. The government also dismissed all 11 state secretaries -- the second-highest-ranking officials in the government ministries.

Social Affairs Minister Jovan Manasievski told reporters the sackings were "routine changes." "Mr. Radivoje Ivanovski [is the new state secretary at the Interior Ministry]. Also appointed are new directors of two of the most important departments, Branko Bojcevski to head the Bureau for Public Safety, and Mr. Verusevski to head the Bureau for Security and Counterintelligence."

But the speed with which the security chiefs have been replaced suggests an urgency on the part of the government, provoked by fears of further security mishaps and possible provocations that have accompanied the drawn-out transition since parliamentary elections on 15 September. Those elections resulted in the defeat of the ruling nationalist party, Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), which has left a legacy, among other things, of some 50 indictments of former Albanian rebels, many of whom are now active politicians.

Those indictments, mainly concerning allegations of terrorist activities, were not covered by a parliamentary approved government amnesty for combatants from all sides in the insurrection.

The new Social Democratic Union-led coalition government of Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski includes one deputy prime minister and four ministers from a recently founded ethnic Albanian party formed by former insurgents, the Democratic Union for Integration, or BDI.

BDI emerged as by far the strongest of four Albanian minority parties and, with its left-of-center ideology, a logical if problematic coalition partner for the Social Democrats.

Several weeks ago, a former National Liberation Army (UCK) fighter and member of the BDI leadership, Sadullah Duraku, was temporarily detained as the result of an arrest warrant.

Then on 3 November, acting on an arrest warrant for alleged terrorist activity issued during the seven-month ethnic Albanian insurrection last year by a Skopje district court, Macedonian border police detained a former UCK commander, Xhevat Ademi, at Blato near Debar as he was about to cross into Albania.

Ademi is a leading member of a small Albanian minority party, the National Democratic Party, which was founded early on in the insurrection. Its program was strikingly similar to the rebels' demands.

Ademi says his detention was "a provocation that leads to more tensions" and "plain Balkan-like stupidity." "They delivered me to the investigating judge. He officially informed me that [11 people, including me, ex-rebel commanders] Ali Ahmeti, Gezim Ostreni, Fazli Veliu, Musa Xhaferi, are accused of the most serious violations of the criminal code which the Macedonian judiciary does not consider to be covered by the amnesty."

An amnesty of rebel and government fighters was a key component of last year's Ohrid framework peace agreement that ended violence between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians.

Ademi says that having been detained and charged he is now safe but that the other 10 former rebel commanders, many of whom are now ministers or deputies, can be arrested by a police patrol any time.

Ademi told RFE/RL by phone the Macedonian police kept him handcuffed with his hands behind his back for 20 hours [from 3 p.m. on 3 November until 11 a.m. on 4 November], forcing him to stand with his face against the wall much of the time. He says this was worse treatment than he received at the hands of Yugoslav police during his arrest and incarceration between 1982 and 1990 for Albanian human rights activities.

"I don't want to make a tendentious guess as to whether this was a message from the former [VMRO-DPMNE] structures or perhaps a false start by the new government endangering every Albanian, not only former UCK members."

Ademi says the Macedonian investigating judge was apologetic, telling Ademi, "We both know what this [detention] is all about but we are powerless do anything to change it." He says the judge indicted Ademi on charges of disturbing the constitutional order and seeking to harm Macedonia's territorial integrity. Ademi in his defense noted the constitution has since been amended and he insisted the UCK did not fight to change Macedonia's borders.

A Skopje-based expert in criminal law, Nikola Tupancevski, said Ademi's arrest is political: "Very little is being done to uphold the rule of law in this whole affair. To have them arrested means violating the amnesty law and not arresting them [because they are charged with terrorism] would be a contravention of international law. That's why this issue is so politicized."

A new Brima-Gallup opinion poll shows Macedonia's new government enjoys the trust of an unprecedented eight out of 10 ethnic Albanians. However, the poll indicates only one in three Macedonians favors the new government.

Meanwhile, Ademi and other former UCK commanders remain on a U.S. government blacklist of ethnic Albanian extremists, that reads like a who's who of junior coalition party in the government, BDI. U.S. diplomats are taking a "wait and see" approach on whether to remove the names of the former insurgents-turned-politicians from the blacklist.