Ethnic Albanian rebels today clashed with Macedonian security forces in the Sar mountains just west of Tetovo, while Macedonian forces continued to shell villages near Kumanovo. As RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports, last week's hopes of an early end to the fighting are fading fast.
Prague, 4 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonian Defense Ministry spokesman Gjeorgji Trendafilov says early this morning (0300 local and Prague time) Albanian militants opened fire on Macedonian forces north of the village of Gajre village in the west of the country.
He says Macedonian security forces responded "severely."
The Macedonian Electricity Supply Company in the nearby city of Tetovo says that during the shelling some power lines were damaged resulting in a halt to some television transmissions.
Zulqufli Ajvazi is the mayor of Sipkovica, a village near where the fighting is taking place. He tells RFE/RL's Albanian unit the situation continues to be difficult two months after heavy fighting ended, with the state security forces claiming to have routed ethnic Albanian fighters from the National Liberation Army, or UCK.
"We in Sipkovica have been blocked [from schools, jobs and markets] in Tetovo for five weeks. The shops cannot supply food. Our food stocks are very low." Meanwhile, attacks on several ethnic Albanian villages west of Kumanovo continued today.
The head of the emergency council in one of the villages, Lipkovo, told RFE/RL last night that Lipkovo has suffered considerable damage from the shelling. He said the village faces a difficult humanitarian situation because the Macedonian authorities won't let international aid organizations into the crisis zone.
"The humanitarian situation of these people and their children is catastrophic. For the past 10 days, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been unable to enter the village. In our community, the people are living in these conditions with very little food or milk." Lipkovo was reported as calm today, but fighting continued around the village of Matejce to the south.
The private Albanian-language Macedonian daily "Fakti" published a statement today by rebel commander Sokoli saying that "if the Macedonian army continues to shell the Lipkovo district throughout the day, the UCK will start applying new military tactics." He says the UCK "will first spread the conflict to other regions of Macedonia" and then will attack industrial targets, such as [Skopje] airport, a refinery, and the power network.
The refinery and the airport are adjacent to the Kumanovo-Skopje highway.
Sokoli says by attacking these key targets, "we want to force the Macedonian government to sit at the negotiating table through economic pressure." He says the UCK "will also urge the Albanian nation to support our war through all means, as it is clear now that the Macedonian army is fighting a war for the destruction of every single Albanian in Macedonia."
Meanwhile, Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski appears to have backtracked on a pledge to make changes to the constitution to give Albanians equal status with Macedonians and to make Albanian an official language along with Macedonian. Georgievski said on (A1) television last night: "if we accept changing the constitution and decentralizing the government...it would mean federalizing Macedonia."
All major political parties in Macedonia -- Albanian as well as Macedonian -- oppose federalization as a step toward possible disintegration. Some UCK commanders, however, favor federalization as a possible step toward closer ties between Albanian-dominated northwestern Macedonia and Kosovo.
Georgievski in his televised remarks last night appeared to blame the Albanian population as a whole rather than, as in the past, blaming only "terrorists." In the prime minister's words: "All Albanian parties support the UCK, none of their intellectuals stands on the Macedonian side, and even civilians kept hostage by them in their villages show solidarity with them."
Georgievski said his three-week-old coalition government of national unity, formed 13 May and which includes two Albanian parties, has failed even to discuss the crisis. As a result he says he would like parliamentary elections to be held as soon as September, rather than in January as previously agreed. He said, "there are no results from this government and I have no intention to head a government [that is] obviously unwilling to face problems."
The prime minister declared that he wants to solve the crisis "militarily...to rout the terrorists, [with] no amnesty or negotiations." Having learned the lessons of battles elsewhere in northwestern Macedonia since March, he conceded that once the crisis around Kumanovo is resolved, a similar crisis will erupt somewhere else.
But in Skopje today, at the signing of a memorandum on military cooperation between Yugoslavia and Macedonia, Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski said he supports a peaceful solution through political means. He agreed with his Yugoslav counterpart on cooperation against terrorism, improved border security, and exchange of information as a review of cooperation in weapons supply.
Last night's consultations between the deputy leaders of the two main Albanian parties and President Boris Trajkovski appears to have made little progress in finding a mutually acceptable solution.
The deputy chairman of the Democratic Party of Albanians, Menduh Thaci, summed up the situation:
"The views of the Macedonian and Albanian political parties have nothing in common. The vocabulary being used by those who are making offers in the name of Mr. Trajkovski is unacceptable, as far as I'm concerned. I mean a partial amnesty [as proposed by Trajkovski for certain categories of UCK fighters] is unacceptable. I'm in favor of expanding the rights of Albanians. I'm not talking about armed men."
Similarly, the deputy chairman of the Party of Democratic Prosperity, Abdulhadi Veseli, said the shelling must stop before any progress at building peace can start. He said, "we can see in the statements of the Macedonian government that their primary option is war, which is unacceptable both for the Albanians and the international community."
In an interview published yesterday in the Turin-based Italian daily "La Stampa," Albanian President Rexhep Meidani denounced a proposal by the head of the Macedonian Academy of Arts and Sciences for an exchange of people and territories between Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo. "I think that, both from a political and from a conceptual standpoint, it would be an understatement to call it a mistake." Rather, he says, "it is a worrying sign of a poor grasp of multiethnic democracy on the part of Macedonian society and its leadership class."
The Macedonian Academy of Arts and Sciences is meeting today in an apparent effort to save its reputation. The academy's president, Gjeorgji Efremov, who backed the proposed exchanges of territory and population, is expected to be replaced.