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Albanians wage war of race hate.

The Observer

Peter Beaumont reports from the mountains on the Kosovo border where former KLA guerrillas have ignited a new flashpoint

Sunday February 25, 2001
The Observer

In the mountains on an uneasy border a new fire is smouldering in the Balkans. If it gets out of hand, it will grow into a full-scale insurgency casting the ethnic Albanians, once victims, as aggressors.
Last week a standoff between troops and guerrillas in Macedonia came to an abrupt end when a television crew were held by a dozen or so gunmen in the Macedonian village of Tanusevci.

Snezana Lupevska, a Macedonian TV journalist, spoke of her ordeal to The Observer last week. She and her crew were interrogated and robbed by the men, some in uniform and some wearing the badges of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The crew had gone to the village, where almost a third of the population is Albanian, to check reports that former ethnic Albanian fighters from Kosovo were training for attacks in Macedonia. What they found was that ethnic Albanian fighters not only controlled the village, but had been locked in a stand-off with Macedonian police and army units for six weeks.

The news team's visit ended all that. In the four hours that followed their release, the army exchanged fire with the guerrillas around the village. Muzafer Xhaferi, a 22-year-old ethnic Albanian, was killed. The Macedonians say he was among gunmen shooting from the woods. His father says he was shot in the back, an innocent civilian.

Yesterday the conflict escalated. Xhavier Xhaferi, a cousin of the dead man, came down the mountain on the Kosovo side of the border with his four children and his elderly mother. He said: 'It's almost war up there. The Macedonian army won't allow us into Macedonia. It's winter. We don't know where to go because we don't have any documents. The police up there are just playing with us.'

The incident at Tanusevci has particularly alarmed observers because it happened not in the mountains of Kosovo or in the Presevo Valley in neighbouring southern Serbia, the scene of recent fighting between Kosovar secessionists and Serbian police. Instead, it took place 15 miles north of Skopje, the capital of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a country which has until now remained largely immune to Kosovo's instability.

But by last week a sense of growing crisis had emerged. Macedonian and Serbian Ministers discussed joint military interventions to drive the guerrillas out. It is a strategy some diplomats and officials believe the K-For peacekeepers in Kosovo may be forced to accept. If they do not, they face the risk of a wider and more dangerous conflict.

There is little dispute about who is to blame. Serbs, Macedonians, senior civilians and military officials in the international community - even some ethnic Albanian politicians in Macedonia - point the finger at extremist former fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army, who were saved by Nato's intervention from annihilation by the Serb police and Yugoslav army.

Some observers believe they are determined to build a 'greater Kosovo', linking ethnic Albanian communities in Macedonia, Montene gro and southern Serbia. Those ethnic Albanian leaders who are prepared to discuss the crisis blame disaffected and alienated former fighters working without a coherent political agenda and seeking an outlet for their frustrations.

But some analysts link events in Macedonia and the Presevo Valley to a recent upsurge in violence against Serbs in Kosovo. The most serious incident, nine days ago, saw 11 Serbs murdered and dozens wounded in a bus bombing.

'We have known there have been men in uniforms operating in our border villages for over a month and a half,' says one senior Interior Ministry source in Macedonia.

'We have confirmed intelligence reports from both Serbia and Macedonia of the creation of a new group, using the initials UCK, that is call ing itself the National Liberation Army.'

The senior official is acutely aware of the recent history of armed ethnic Albanian groups operating in the region's mountains and of how quickly they can grow from a handful of men into large-scale insurgencies.

He knows too that joint Serbian-Macedonian action to push them out carries its own dangers. 'It is a serious dilemma. If we leave them there, we run the risk of the situation escalating. If we move against them, we risk inflaming Albanian opinion here and threatening the stability of Macedonia itself.'

Macedonian sources say they have identified those organising incursions into Macedonian Serbia. They name the former KLA commander and leader of the Alliance for Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, whom international officials accuse of orchestrating the violence in the Presevo Valley. They say the groups in southern Serbia and Macedonia are financed by the international Homeland Calling Fund. It taxed Kosovar Albanians abroad to pay for the war in Kosovo against the Serbs.

There are at least three training camps in Nato's five-kilometre buffer zone bordering Kosovo and southern Serbia. A recent visit by The Observer to a camp near Zegra revealed how the young fighters training there had been radicalised. One fighter said: 'You have your job to do. We have ours: here in Presevo, in Kosovo, in Montenegro and in other places.' The 'other places' feed the Macedonian Ministry of Defence's anxieties. It told The Observer that it had monitored five or six large groups of armed men crossing the border into Macedonia last week alone.

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