Accessibility links

Balkan Report: April 5, 2002

5 April 2002, Volume 6, Number 14

A SHOOTOUT DISRUPTS MACEDONIA'S CALM. On the evening of 25 March, gunfire and explosions shook the Tetovo suburb of Mala Recica. The shootout between rival groups of ethnic Albanian rebels started at 8:30 p.m. and lasted about two and a half hours. Members of the self-styled Albanian National Army (AKSH) attacked units of the disbanded National Liberation Army (UCK) with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2002).

The UCK members were defending a building in which the newly formed Coordination Council of the Albanians in Macedonia had held a meeting earlier the same day. During that session, former UCK leader Ali Ahmeti was elected chairman of the council. When the shootout began, Ahmeti had already left the building.

First reports indicated that up to 100 persons were involved and dozens wounded or killed, but these accounts soon proved to be exaggerated. When the dust settled, both rebel groups stated that three people were dead and three others wounded. The number of AKSH men attacking the building was revised downward to about 20.

The background to the shootout is difficult to reconstruct because the groups involved issued contradictory explanations. At first, Macedonian media speculated that the attackers sought to liquidate Ahmeti, whom the radical AKSH regards as traitor.

However, in its Communique No. 14, the AKSH stated: "In the afternoon of 25 March at 1:30 p.m., a group of young volunteers joined the AKSH. A group of mercenaries...and other criminals [i.e. members of the UCK] caught the volunteers and roundly beat them up.... Later they wanted to hand them over to the Macedonian authorities. For six hours, units of the AKSH tried to free their brothers,... but at 9:30 p.m. [the UCK] started to fire at the AKSH units. This barbaric behavior resulted in the AKSH being forced to defend itself." The communique was signed by AKSH Supreme Commander Hekuran Asllani and the political commissioner, Valdet Vardari.

But on 28 March, Alban Berisha, the spokesman of the AKSH general staff, denied any connection to the group of Asllani and Vardari. "Behind [this group]...stand ultra-Marxist structures close to the Albanian Revolutionary Party (PRSH)," the daily "Dnevnik" quoted Berisha as saying.

Meanwhile, domestic politicians as well as the international community condemned the shootout -- but warned that the incident will not be the last one. On 4 April, unidentified persons fired at least one antitank rocket or grenade into the Dora restaurant in Tetovo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2002). The restaurant belongs to Menduh Thaci, who is deputy leader of the governing Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH). It is not clear whether the incident was politically motivated or whether it was linked to the Mala Recica case. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

MACEDONIA: THE LJUBE BOSKOVSKI SHOW. During an official visit to Bulgaria, hawkish Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski created a stir when he proudly announced on 28 March the arrest of a man for carrying out the 3 October 1995 bomb attack on Kiro Gligorov, who was president at the time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2002). Macedonian media reported that Boskovski identified the arrested suspect as Arslan Nuishi from the village of Grcec near Skopje.

Boskovski also said that Ljubomir Frckovski, who was interior minister at the time of the attack, will be prosecuted. According to Boskovski, an investigation has revealed that Frckovski took a bribe in exchange for allowing the would-be assassin to escape abroad. Together with Frckovski, a number of high-ranking officials of the Interior Ministry are also being investigated for their involvement. Boskovski previously raised similar accusations against Frckovski, but nothing came of them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2001).

Boskovski used the Sofia press conference to take up the question of whether Bulgarian citizens were involved in the bomb attack. Boskovski said that all suspects in the case are Macedonian citizens. The allegation of a possible Bulgarian connection has been around ever since the early days of the investigation, when Frckovski spoke of a "multinational group" that allegedly carried out the attack. The rumor seemed to be confirmed by the suicide of the Skopje representative of the Bulgarian Multigrup conglomerate shortly after the attack. In Bulgaria, Multigrup is considered to have close links to organized crime.

Macedonian media quickly picked up the news of the arrest and provided information about the suspect. Nuishi reportedly runs a pizzeria in Prague, where the Czech police arrested him. Macedonian authorities detained Nuishi in February 1996 on suspicion of being involved in the bomb attack, but released him shortly afterwards. Nuishi later gave Gligorov an armored Mercedes limousine as a present, which turned out to have been stolen in Germany.

When the news of the arrest broke, some commentators reacted skeptically to Boskovski's announcement. Gligorov said he will not comment unless there is evidence that the arrested man is guilty. Once before, when Boskovski publicly stated that Gligorov hugged him out of gratitude for his efforts to find the attacker, Gligorov denied that he ever met with Boskovski. Maybe this is why the interior minister is now silent about the case. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

STEINER OFFERS SERBS A DEAL. Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova, signed an agreement in Belgrade on 3 April on transferring an unspecified number of Serbian prisoners from Kosova to Serbia proper, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic signed for the Serbian side.

Steiner also discussed with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica the need for Kosova's Serbian minority to end its boycott of the provincial government and participate in its state institutions. Steiner has rejected a direct role for Belgrade in Kosova's affairs as well as the local Serbs' demands for a cabinet-level post to deal with refugee returns, but he offered a compromise (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 March 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 January 2002). Steiner suggested that the local Serbs could have a post of "senior adviser" to him on refugee return or a governmental position of "coordinator for refugee return."

On 28 March, Steiner told Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service that UN Security Council resolution 1244 assigns responsibility for refugee return to the international community and not to the government. He added that this arrangement is in the Serbs' interest, since the government is dominated by Albanians. Steiner argued that overcoming fear is the greatest problem facing the province as a whole, and that he must ensure the safety and security of the Serbs still in the province before he can deal effectively with the question of refugee returns.

During his visit to Belgrade on 3 April, the German diplomat added that he hopes the Serbs will join the Kosova government and participate in local elections slated for later in 2002 so that they can govern areas in which they form a majority, AP reported.

He also met with Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, "Vesti" reported. Steiner said he needs the support of "all authorities, especially the Serbian Orthodox Church," to attain his goal of a multi-ethnic Kosova. He added that he is concerned that there is no contact between the religious leaders and intellectuals of the Serbs in Belgrade on the one hand and of the Albanians in Kosova on the other (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 7 and 14 February 2002). (Patrick Moore)

SLOVENIA SEEKS ANSWERS TO 1946 KILLINGS. The daily "Delo" announced on 28 March that excavations have been completed at the mass grave in Zgornja Bistrica, a village at the base of the Pohorje Hills near Slovenska Bistrica, some 110 kilometers northeast of Ljubljana. The site is a former air-raid shelter and lies behind the Impol aluminum factory, which processed copper for Germany during World War II. Work on the second of two wood-strutted shafts began in December, when workers started uncovering its dynamited entrance. The total number of skeletons, including 231 discovered in the first shaft last year, is now over 400.

The remains in both tunnels indicate that the killers bound the victims' wrists with telephone wire, killed them at another location, and then brought them to the tunnels. According to Zdenka Cerar, Slovenia's state prosecutor, the identity of the perpetrators is not yet known, although there are leads. Investigators have established that the killings took place in January 1946, narrowing the list of prosecutable crimes to two that are not beyond the statute of limitations: war crimes against prisoners of war and genocide.

Blame for the killings seems to rest with two former secret police organizations: the OZNA (Department for People's Defense) and its subordinate, the KNOJ (People's Defense Corps of Yugoslavia). The OZNA -- renamed UDBA in 1947 -- gathered intelligence and countered alleged fifth-column activities, while the KNOJ operated against anticommunist elements throughout communist-held territory.

The OZNA and KNOJ, argues Miha Rubin in a "Delo" editorial of 29 March, must have known of the disappearance of more than 400 local people after the war, including 80 in Slovenska Bistrica alone. Such roundups were intended to liquidate wartime collaborators but often proved less discriminating and sometimes served to settle personal grudges. The question now is how many of those responsible remain alive to be prosecuted.

Franc Kac, a native of Zgornja Bistrica and the leader of the local OZNA unit in 1946, personally participated in the arrest of Count Ferdinand Attems, whose magnificently frescoed castle still adorns Slovenska Bistrica. Kac has since moved to the coastal city of Portoroz, or perhaps even to Germany, according to his 87-year-old sister. In 1996, he claimed he was not involved in the arrest and was disinclined to think about matters he cannot clearly recall.

Cerar says he wants to reconstruct the chain of command in the killings and hopes that archives in Belgrade might shed some light. "Let's only hope," writes Rubin, "that the trail doesn't lead from Belgrade to Moscow," where it would likely end without anyone having been brought to justice.

Forensic evidence may provide information on the identities of those killed. Joze Balazic, director of the Institute for Forensic Medicine, stated that investigators are still examining the crumbling bones and other remains to determine the gender and age of several victims. Poignant details such as a large amount of dental gold and several artificial limbs indicate that the victims were from a higher social class. The presence of women and the elderly among the victims suggests that they were civilians.

Altogether, over 100 clues to individual identities have been recovered. DNA has been taken for possible matches with living relatives from three skeletons: one found near a ring with the engraving "K.A.," one believed to be a Rogaska Slatina native with a distinctive leg injury, and one thought to be a woman from Slovenska Bistrica with long braids. Investigators are also optimistic that they will be able to identify the body of a woman in her late teens or early 20s with a metal prosthetic leg. Death certificates will follow any positive identification.

In two articles in the weekly "Mladina" late last year, Ksenja Hahonina related how locals have always known the site existed, constructing legends around figures such as one of the count's five sons, who returned home from the German army missing a leg. The work at Zgornja Bistrica began at the initiative of the local municipality, says Emil Vezjak, deputy mayor of Slovenska Bistrica. The municipality has spent nearly $140,000 excavating the site and, despite assurances, the state has not yet reimbursed the expenses. Of the over 100 mass graves believed located in Slovenia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 November 2001), only 75 have been officially registered, according to Peter Kovacic Persin, head of Slovenia's commission for mass graves.

The fact that the investigation is taking place at all is a positive sign. It is understandable that many Slovenes are not eager to invest in costly examinations of troubling historical events to which most today feel no connection. However, it is only since 1991 that there has been an opportunity to examine the culpability of the communist regime in these postwar deaths. For those Slovenes whose grandparents, parents, and even siblings disappeared into an abandoned bunker in the Pohorje foothills half a century ago, the issue remains highly relevant. (Donald F. Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University Ph.D. candidate based in Ljubljana,

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK: "We had a wonderful life in Germany, but that is a society where we don't belong. I came back to Sarajevo to work for peanuts but to do what I've been educated to do." -- Sarajevo resident Sanda Jaksic explaining why she and her husband Svetozar Pudaric went home with their young son in 1997. From a Reuters report on 4 April marking the 10th anniversary of the Serbian siege of Sarajevo.