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Balkan Report: March 13, 2001

13 March 2001, Volume 5, Number 19

REFUGEES FLEE THE TANUSEVCI REGION. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says more than 1,000 Macedonian Albanians have fled the recent fighting near Macedonia's border with Kosova. While most have fled across the mountains to Kosova, about a quarter have sought refuge in the Macedonian interior. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reported from the scene recently.

Most residents of the border village of Tanusevci have already left their homes, and now residents of three other nearby border villages (Brest, Malino, and Gosince) are evacuating their families.

Many refugees are choosing to cross the border into Kosova, but some are remaining in Macedonia and moving to areas south of the border zone such as the village of Aracinovo.

Sabedin Hajdari, an agricultural worker, left the mountain border village of Malino, east of Tanusevci, on 6 March with his 30-member extended family. He says that his family is now camped out in an unfinished house in Aracinovo. In his words, "there is a lot of shooting up there about one kilometer from the village, though we don't know who is [doing the] shooting." He says the shooting came closer to Malino and increased in intensity on 5 March, forcing the family's decision to leave. "A few of the old people stayed behind to look after the livestock. We've got cows, horses, sheep, and goats. [My daughter told me that as soon as the bombing stops, we'll go back.] We have to save our property."

Lutfie Nebiu left Malino with her five children on 4 March, the day two Macedonian soldiers were killed after their vehicle hit a mine and a third was killed by a sniper. She says shooting around a Macedonian army post some two kilometers from Malino and fear for her small children caused them to flee to her sister's house in Aracinovo. Her husband stayed behind in the village to look after their livestock. "We were afraid that it would be the same as in Kosova with all the shooting. My children are small. We were the first to leave, but now others are coming down the mountain from our neighborhood."

Nebiu says she doesn't know who is doing the shooting, but she says the men are strangers and are not wearing uniforms.

The Macedonian Interior Ministry says there is no reason for people to flee and claims there is no military activity in the area other than around Tanusevci. A spokesman for the ministry, Stevo Pendarovski, says fleeing only raises tensions.

Nevertheless, some 3,000 to 4,000 Macedonian soldiers and police are believed to be deployed in the area, including three elite Macedonian special forces units: the Wolves, Tigers, and Scorpions.

Pendarovski alleges that the rebels, claiming to belong to the National Liberation Army (UCK), are using recruitment and training centers in Kosova around the town of Viti, where the NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers maintain a strong presence. He says the rebels are training "right under KFOR's nose."

Nurije Emini, another refugee, came to Aracinovo with her children from Tanusevci three weeks ago just as fighting was erupting.

She says she is trying to register herself and her family with the authorities in Skopje as Macedonian citizens. Many inhabitants of the isolated border villages lack registration papers or birth certificates (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 March 2001).

Emini, who is illiterate and stands barefoot in the winter cold, says she does not send her children to an elementary school in the village because "it is too far." The nearest middle school is in Kosova.

She says villagers without papers are subject to frequent harassment by Macedonian police who occasionally detain them or beat them. In her words: "they even beat cowherds and people going to the woods for firewood."

Villagers tell of one instance when a young man went across the road to see relatives but was detained by police for not having papers. They took him to Skopje where they held him for two days until he could find two witnesses who certified that he is from Macedonia.

Adem Bajrami is 20 years old. He left the village of Brest three years ago to work in Aracinovo. On 6 March he went back to Brest to get his family. He says he heard large-caliber weapons being fired as family members trudged through snow over fog-bound mountains before they reached the nearest road. Bajrami denies frequent allegations that the fighting is not about Albanians' rights but rather related to gun-running and smuggling.

"There is no such connection. There is no smuggling of cigarettes, weapons, or the like. They [Macedonian security forces] killed a person for no reason, and the crisis in the village of Tanusevci [three weeks ago] started. There are no other problems. The border zone is there. People from the villages of Tanusevci, Brest, and Malino do their shopping in Kosova. But there is no business in arms, cigarettes, or other smuggling."

Bajrami insists the rebels are all from Tanusevci and that there are none from Kosova, since the border is sealed off by KFOR on one side and Macedonian forces on the other. "Albanians are fighting for their rights. Macedonians already have all the rights. It's self-defense to defend one's home. If your home is now threatened by someone and you defend it. That's not an organized army or some such thing."

In Skopje, Suzana Saliu is the deputy republic ombudsman and the only Albanian lawyer in the office. She says Tanusevci has been a particular problem in the past, noting that the elementary school director was unable to enroll children lacking birth certificates or other identity documentation. Saliu says many Macedonian Albanians have no proof of citizenship. She also says that Macedonia's Interior Ministry does not recognize identity documents issued by the UN administration in Kosova, UNMIK.

"[Macedonia's] law on state citizenship, which is considered to be very restrictive and very rigorous, sets many difficult conditions. This is a law aimed particularly at Albanians. Albanian communities are very mixed, especially with citizens of Kosova. There are Albanians who do not have a house or family in Macedonia, but nor do they have any family connections with citizens of Kosova, either."

Saliu says that her office responds to requests for assistance in securing identity papers. She adds, however, that so far it has not taken the initiative to protect the rights of the residents of the northern border villages. (Jolyon Naegele)

KOSTUNICA SLAMS OWN AMBASSADOR. In an 8 March press conference characterized by remarks that some dubbed arrogant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2001), Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica took to task not only NATO and Carla Del Ponte, but also Milan Protic, Belgrade's new ambassador to Washington.

Kostunica said that remarks attributed to Protic to the effect that Milosevic will be arrested by 31 March reflect Protic's "transatlantic view of the situation in the Balkans, which is based on writings in the American media," "Vesti" reported. Kostunica added: "For us, 31 March does not mean much if one takes into account what is going on in southern Serbia and how the situation in Montenegro is developing. Does anyone believe that milk and honey will begin to flow here to the extent that we satisfy [the Americans'] demands?"

President George W. Bush will decide by 31 March whether to free up $100 million in aid to Belgrade, depending on whether the Serbian authorities are cooperating sufficiently with The Hague. Del Ponte says that, so far, they are not cooperating at all. She dubs Kostunica an "unbelievable" nationalist and "a man of the past." (Patrick Moore)

A KNIFE IN THE BACK. Paris-based Ismail Kadare, who is Albania's leading writer, told "Koha Ditore" of 10 March that the latest violence in Macedonia constitutes a "knife in the back" of Kosova. He argues that the Albanian extremists in Macedonia have managed to realize the dream that former President Slobodan Milosevic was unable to achieve: to bring about a conflict between NATO and the ethnic Albanians of the region. (Patrick Moore)

JOVANKA OFF THE HOOK. Jovanka Broz, who is the widow of the late Josip Broz Tito, feels the effects of advanced age and of a lifestyle that is considerably more modest than the one she once enjoyed. But she is now rid of at least one problem: by order of President Vojislav Kostunica, she is no longer under a police surveillance that amounted to a form of house arrest.

"Vesti" reported on 7 March that it was well known that Mira Markovic, the wife of Milosevic, did not want to share the political limelight with Tito's widow or any other woman. Mira -- who liked to be referred to as "drugarica [comrade] number one" -- made sure that Tito's leading drugarica stayed out of public view. The only question now is why it took the new authorities more than five months to end a police watch on one elderly woman. (Patrick Moore)

YUGOSLAVIA AT THE BOTTOM. At a recent conference at Wildbad Kreuth sponsored by Bavaria's Hanns Seidel Foundation, Dr. Hans-Lothar Altmann of Berlin's Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik noted that the latest statistics put Yugoslavia below Albania according to many economic indices. Even more surprising was his revelation that in some categories, Yugoslavia is beneath Moldova and even Tajikistan as well.

The conference dealt with the democratization of Serbia and Yugoslavia. Not a single one of the speakers was particularly positive on the course of developments since October 2000 or willing to take at face value the new government's claims of a real transition to democracy.

On 12 March, the newly opened Serbian branch of Transparency International revealed in Belgrade that Serbia is in 89th place out of 90 countries worldwide according to TI's index of corruption. Serbia is at the bottom of the list for Europe, again behind Albania and Moldova. (Patrick Moore)

GENERAL PAVKOVIC'S LAST HURRAH? Apparently embarrassed by a recent spate of jingoist interviews given by some leading generals, the Belgrade authorities have now banned the brass from talking to the press about the situation in southern Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2001). Before the muzzling order was issued, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who is chief of the General Staff, talked bluntly to "Vesti" of 3 March.

He referred several times to NATO's "aggression" in 1999 and wondered why the alliance more recently has not prevented guerrillas from entering Presevo from Kosova. Still on the topic of "Albanian terrorism," Pavkovic said that there is no reason for the army's Pristina Corps to withdraw from Presevo "because it is on its own territory."

Returning to a topic he broached in the press a few weeks earlier, Pavkovic said that there is no reason now to send in Serbian paramilitary "volunteer" units to fight in Presevo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2001). He added, however, that such units are found in "all armies throughout the world" and that Yugoslavia will summon them "if the need arises, as was the case during the [1999] aggression." He might have recalled that it was he who commanded the Third Army in Kosova at that time. (Patrick Moore)

OBSERVATION OF THE WEEK: The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote the following about Kostunica on 9 March: "Critics charge that he is trying to achieve by peaceful means what his predecessor Milosevic failed to obtain in war, [namely to carry out a greater Serbian agenda and remove U.S. influence from the Balkans]... [He seems to think that] one can work with the West and use political means to win back what one has lost by fighting against the West with military means...

"Kosova has been lost to Serbia once and for all. To say anything else is hogwash."

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "We will be a problem. We will remain a threat to stability because for us the status quo is unfair." -- Ex-UCK spokesman Lirak Celaj, quoted in "The Guardian" of 12 March.

"We were given assurances by the Serbs that they will show moderation and sensitivity." -- NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. Quoted in Washington on 8 March by the BBC's Serbian Service. He was referring to NATO's decision to allow Serbian forces to return to part of the safety zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2001).

"[KFOR's] robust presence, I believe, is having an effect on those people who use that whole border area -- ill-defined as it is, heavily mined as it is -- as a sort of adventure playground for violence. Some of the upsurge in violence has been to do with the fact that these insurgents, these ethnic Albanian armed groups -- and others -- know that their time is coming to an end." -- Robertson, quoted by AP.

"We are happy that Serbia is on the road to Europe. It is a long road, a difficult road, but you will have enough support from us." -- German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer to visiting Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in Berlin on 9 March. Quoted by RFE/RL.