Enter content here
A Macedonian army MI-24 combat helicopter fires while flying over the village of Slupchane, north-east of Skopje, May 5, 2001. The latest upsurge of fighting in Macedonia entered its third day amid growing fears for the Balkan's fragile stability and the fate of civilians trapped in the fighting. (Oleg Popov/Reuters)
Russia urges declaration of war.
Russia is offering its support for a declaration of war by the government of Macedonia against rebel separatists, as it ridicules NATO and European Union peace efforts, according to official Russian sources.
Referring to recent statements of Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, Moscow acknowledged that Macedonian police and military "could control the situation," but that the Macedonian forces "would have more opportunities if a state of war was declared."
NATO and EU opposition to such a declaration is, "in effect, limiting offensive action against the separatists," according to Russian sources.
The remarks were carried by the Voice of Russia World Service, the official broadcasting service of the Russian government.
Macedonia shares a border with NATO-controlled Kosovo. The frontier between the two is the site of extensive illicit traffic of all kinds.
"The Albanian separatists," Moscow declared, "enjoy the support of NATO and the European Union in the drive to split Macedonia." The National Liberation Army, in the words of the broadcast, "receives ever more weapons and mercenaries from Albanian extremists in Kosovo," across a border NATO could close "if it wished to."
Moscow lashed out at NATO control of Kosovo, stating that "local Albanians have transformed the demarcation area into a hotbed of terrorism and aggression in the Balkans."
The solution to NATO's perceived errors, according to Moscow, is the recommendation that Macedonia turn for assistance to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which comprises Serbia and a reluctant Montenegro.
Relations between Russia and Yugoslavia are again warming following the ouster of Moscow's former ally, Slobodan Milosevic.
"Given NATO's attitude," Moscow said, "Macedonia can only rely upon Yugoslavia to help. According to reports, a representative of the Yugoslavian army staff" will consult with Macedonian military authorities, the broadcast added.
NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson and EU foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana are urging the Macedonian government to refrain from a declaration of war, particularly since the current Macedonian ruling coalition could collapse following such a declaration.
According to Deutsche Welle, the official broadcasting service of the German government, The Democratic Party of Albanians, a partner in the current Macedonian coalition government, will walk out if war is declared.
The fate of Macedonia's coalition government remains in doubt, since ethnic Albanian politicians support greater independence for the nation's Albanian minority -- a position hotly contested by the Macedonian majority.
Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski recently described Albanian separatists as a "criminal element," but he also called for "a reform program which will unite this country" against the separatist movement.
Trajkovski described the rebels fighting the government as an "external threat," indicating his belief that support for separatism lies beyond his nation's borders.
International observers, including those from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have raised the possibility that separatist guerrillas are not allowing refugees to flee from the battle zone and instead are using the civilian population as a human shield.
To aid those attempting to flee from the fighting, Macedonian forces have announced that they will have a cease-fire for several hours each morning and will supply transportation out of the contested area for refugees.
According to observers, some civilians in the battle zone elect to remain in their homes, rather than flee into the unknown.
PM GEORGIEVSKI: DISCUSSION ON POSSIBILITY TO PROCLAIM A STATE OF WAR.
We have seriously discussed on proclaiming a state of war in the country, but other political parties must be consulted for the final decision, Prime Minister Ljubcho Georgievski said late Saturday after a meeting of highest Macedonian officials with President Boris Trajkovski.
According to him, new terrorist attacks are expected in the Tetovo region, in the villages Brodec, Bozovce and Veshala, and maybe the city of Debar.
"If it happens, it means that attackers will enter through Albania, which is far away from Kosovo, meaning that Albania indirectly allows entrance of terrorist groups into Macedonia, " he said, adding that Macedonian forces could be transferred from Kumanovo to other areas, which means opening of a new front.
Regarding the cooperation with the Yugoslav Army, Georgievski said it would refer to exchange of information and technical cooperation.
AGIM CHEKU:KPC WILL SUSPEND TIES WITH ETHNIC ALBANIAN REBELS.
Pristina, - The Commander of Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) Agim Cheku said the KPC intends to suspend any relations with ethnic Albanian rebels operating in Macedonia.
The Kosovo Protection Corps had kicked out recently as many as 14 members, including their Chief, following the intelligence reports that linked them to the rebels operating in Macedonia, Cheku told Reuters news agency, adding that the links of certain KPC members are personal not professional.
Cheku outlined that KPC intends to become a multiethnic organization in line with Western standards. The KPC aims to serve all citizens of Kosovo, Cheku said.
The KPC Commander claims that he had recently convinced two Serbs in southern part of Kosovo to join the Kosovo Protection Corps.
Multinational peace force for Balkans.
A multinational peace force for the Balkans, agreed by seven countries in the region in 1998, is now operational.
The peacekeeping force was formed by Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Romania and Turkey.
The force will consist of a brigade of between 2,000 and 3,000 troops from the forces of the seven member nations.
They have been undergoing joint exercises since last September.
The force's headquarters has opened in Plovdiv, southern Bulgaria, but will rotate every four years among member states.
The group's commanding officer for the first four years will be Turkish General Hilmi Zorlou.
Earlier this month, Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said his country and Greece would conduct a study into whether the new force could be formally integrated into NATO's KFOR peacekeeping operation in Kosovo to help protect the Macedonian border.
DNEVNIK:A SHIP WITH EQUIPMENT FOR THE US SOLDIERS IN MACEDONIA ARRIVED.
At the Burgas Port, Bulgaria a ship with 250 containers and 700 combat vehicles arrived yesterday for the US soldiers in KFOR who are deployed in Macedonia, Beta reports referring to the Bulgarian Agency BTA. The ship "Marilyn" arrived yesterday in Burgas from the US Bumond Port. Next week two more ships with military equipment and helicopters are expected in Burgas.
Macedonian tanks move against rebels.
The army is advancing under cover of artillery.
By Nicholas Wood in Skopje
Tanks and armoured personnel carriers of the Macedonian army have been moving against rebel-held villages near the northern city of Kumanovo, after shelling them for a third day
The army said it resumed its shelling after the expiry of a deadline for the ethnic Albanian guerrillas to withdraw.
Aid agencies say hundreds of civilians have been fleeing, with many crossing into neighbouring Kosovo.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says at least two civilians have been killed in the fighting. Some reports put that number as high as seven.
Eye-witness reports from Kumanovo say at least a dozen tanks and armoured vehicles have been advancing towards the village of Slupcane, one of the main areas held by the ethnic Albanian rebel group, the National Liberation Army.
The vehicles were seen moving into the village of Lepati, until now in no-man's-land and just short of Slupcane.
Overhead, mortars and artillery are being used to shell the rebels' positions. They can be seen hitting houses in Slupcane and Vakcince, another NLA stronghold.
Tanks have been advancing towards the village of Slupcane.
Villagers were told to leave the area by 1100am (0900 GMT), the same ultimatum that has been given for the past two days ahead of artillery barrages on positions of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA).
Government spokesmen claim that the National Liberation Army has been using up to 3,500 people as human shields.
Guerrilla commanders deny this and say those who have stayed behind don't want to leave their homes.
Yet in the third day of fighting the army seems determined to repeat its successful operation around the city of Tetovo over a month ago.
There, tanks and artillery shelled rebel positions until the gunmen withdrew into the hills. That process though took 10 days.
Civilians fleeing Macedonia front tell of shooting, extortion and fear.
KUMANOVO, Macedonia, May 5 (AFP) -
Tears welling in his eyes, one of the first villagers to have escaped the fighting in northern Macedonia on Saturday implored police in the city of Kumanovo to save the family he left behind.
Sveto, a Slav Macedonian, said ethnic Albanian guerillas were firing at his ethnically mixed native village of Lopate, and that two houses were in flames.
"My mother and father, my whole family stayed up there when the terrorists started firing this afternoon," he said.
Sveto was working in his fields when the conflict reached Lopate, near the rebel-held villages of Vaksince and Slupcane in the hills above Kumanovo.
"When the shooting started I tried to get home, but I saw two houses belonging to my relatives in flames and I headed for a garage where around 15 people were sheltering," said the farmer aged around 40, still visibly shaken.
When the garage also came under fire, he set out through the woods for Kumanovo, several miles to the east.
In the Karpos neighbourhood of Kumanovo, ethnic Albanian Petrit, his wife and five children were sheltering with relatives.
They had walked overnight Friday to Saturday from the village of Orizari, just the west of Kumanovo, as the battle drew closer.
Sitting around a garden table in the shade of a tree his family listens to his tale.
"It was terrible, we were very lucky to be able to get out," he said.
"How did we get out? We gave them (the Albanian gunmen) money, lots of money. You have to pay them something if you want to leave, money or jewellery, it's the only way," he said.
His words appeared to bear out government statements that the guerrillas were demanding payment from villagers wanting to leave the combat zone, an assertion the gunmen have denied.
Faton, a 28-year-old ethnic Albanian, turned up at the police station at just about the same time as Sveto.
He hesitated before talking to the press, fearing reprisals by the guerrillas of the self-proclaimed National Liberation Army who say they are fighting for Albanian rights.
Then he says he paid 12,000 German marks (6,000 euros) to the gunmen to receive permission to leave his village.
"A month ago, they started arriving from Kosovo, each day there were more of them," he said.
"At first we didn't think they'd do anyhting to us, but terrible things have happened ... people are very frightened," he stammered, adding that one man had been severely beaten.
"I was hiding in my cellar with my family for three days, without any food and only a little water. I gave them 12,000 marks and some gold to let me leave with my wife and children, but my parents and two sisters are still there," he said.
Faton, Sveto, Petrit and their families are part of a group of 115 people, mainly from the villages of Orizari and Slupcane, who fled the fighting between the guerrillas and the army, which broke out Thursday when the NLA shot dead two soldiers, said Kumanovo police chief Dragi Nestorovski.
"People are calling us and asking us to help them get out, particularly people from Vaksince and Slupcane," the two villages at the centre of the army bombardment.
Three evacuation appeals by the goivernment to villagers to quit their homes ahead of army onslaughts have met with little response.
Skopje says more than 3,500 villagers are being used as a human shield by the NLA, while the guerrillas say the people have stayed of their own will.
Sami, speaking from his home in Slupcane by mobile phone, said: "We don't have any electricity, no water, so there's no television or radio and we don't hear the government appeals."
PRESIDENT TRAJKOVSKI MEETS WITH REPRESENTATIVES OF PARLIAMENTARY PARTIES.
The party leaders strongly condemned the killing of Macedonian soldiers, policemen, one civilian, and kidnapping of a soldier and two civilians by terrorists, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said Saturday after a meeting with representatives of the parliamentarian political parties.
The meeting was also focused on stepping up of the political dialogue and evacuation of civilians from the Lipkovo village area.
"It has been also pointed out that the governmental institutions will take strong measures against anyone who will attempt to take the law in his own hands," Trajkovski stressed.
It was also emphasized that the violence was aimed to raise interethnic hatred. The terrorists had nothing in common with the Macedonian citizens, Trajkovski said.
"Legitimate representatives of citizens of Macedonia are the leaders of political parties who were at a meeting with me," he said.
He also informed that topics which would be discussed at the next meetings with the party leaders referred to appropriate inclusion of the national minorities in the state administration and public institutions in compliance with the European standards for creating of a professional administration, improving of local government, enhancing of the rule of law, respect of the European election standards, fiscal discipline, combat against organized crime, money laundry and corruption.
At the meeting, Trajkovski also suggested usage of national minority languages in the communication with the governmental institutions and education at all levels, as well as strengthening of the civil character of Macedonia. The President informed Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, as holder of the EU Presidency, about the agenda of the future meeting with the party leaders.
Trajkovski also informed the political leaders about his meeting with US President George Bush, who extended full support of Macedonia in surpassing of the crisis.
"The US strongly supports Macedonia's territorial integrity and sovereignty, clearly saying it is against all of those who intent to jeopardize Macedonia and giving political, security and economic assistance to the country," Trajkovski said.
KERIM APPEALS TO ANNA LINDT FOR IMPROVED COOPERATION OF MACEDONIA AND EU.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim, in relation to the informal European Union Foreign Affairs Ministerial which takes place on Saturday and Sunday in Nicoping, Sweden, send a message to Anna Lindt, Swedish Foreign Minister and current Chairman of the EU, appealing for intensified cooperation between Macedonian and the Union, in order to overcome the current crisis. According to Kerim, this would contribute to the debate of the situation in the region, of which Macedonia is an integral part.
In the information on the current security situation in Macedonia, a result of the terrorist activities of Albanian extremist groups, Minister Kerim points out to the fact that "violence that happens in Macedonia is a new phenomenon in political battle, without a precedent, which must not be allowed at any cost". "It jeopardizes the security of not only Macedonia, but also of the region".
According to Kerim, the goal of the terrorists is to cause a spiral escalation of violence in Macedonia, to occupy villages in the Kumanovo area, hold the local population hostage. All this is a clear sign for the international community to take more effective measures and help the Macedonian security forces dealing with this problem.
"This is of crucial importance, because we are partners in the process of removing and eliminating the negative consequences of violence and terrorism being used as political tools in the region" Kerim said.
Kerim reiterated the Macedonian strategic determination to provide internal, and peace in the region, and thus contribute to the process of integration into Euro-Atlantic structures and building of interethnic relations in the civic society. According to him, the support to political and economic stability would create conditions for harmonious interethnic relations, and favourable climate for improvement of the democratic concept of the society.
Kerim said that it should not be allowed for the brutal murder of the eight Macedonian soldiers and policemen to destroy the ongoing political dialogue, which is the best way to solve problems. The measures that were undertaken, such as the postponement of the census, decentralization of the local government, ratification of the Regional and minority rights convention, and other point out that that the political dialogue yielded results.
Kerim pointed out to the concrete projects that resulted from the dialogue, such as the SouthEast Europe University in Tetovo, the appointment of the third channel of the Macedonian television to the minorities and the modernization of the border control troops.
Each political party should give its contribution and provide conditions for these projects to be realized successfully.
"I would like to add that we need the EU partnership in the context of meeting the political conditions" Kerim said in the message, listing the three points of support: financial help for the Macedonian Budget that still suffers the consequences of the Kosovo crises in 1999, EU investments in small and medium companies in Macedonia, and providing additional finances for the minorities TV channel and the local government.
"Our opinion is that the EU should adopt a package of financial support of Macedonia, and include these projects in the CARDS program" Kerim said.
"The Stabilization and Association Agreement that Macedonia signed on April 9 is the path leading to the future of Macedonia, and I am convinced that within these frames Macedonia would rise its institutions to the level that would satisfy not only the preconditions of the Agreement, but also the preconditions for full membership in the EU" Kerim concluded his message to Anna Lindt, his contribute to the regional situation debate on the informal EU Foreign Affairs Ministerial.
NEW APPEAL TO POPULATION OF VILLAGES NEAR KUMANOVO TO LEAVE THEIR HOMES.
Macedonian Defense and Internal Affairs Ministries Saturday evening reiterated the appeal to the civilian population of Kumanovo area villages of Lojane, Slupcane, Matejce, Otla, Lipkovo, Orizare and Vaksince to evacuate their homes and leave for Kumanovo, where they will be accommodated by the Macedonian Government, Sunday morning between 5:00 and 11:00.
They warn the citizens to travel only on the asphalt road to Kumanovo. Movement on regional roads and in other direction is strictly prohibited. They also advise these people to take with them their personal identification documents.
Macedonian Defense and Interior Ministries demanded from the terrorist groups to not interfere in evacuation of civilians and to immediately free the Macedonian soldier and the two civilians they keep imprisoned. If they not comply, it will be hold against them in the further legal procedure.
Once the deadline expires, Macedonian security forces will resume their operation against the terrorist groups.
According to the announcement, the appeal is made in order to protect the local population and avoid innocent civilian casualties.
"We appeal to the terrorists not to try to hurt the Macedonian soldier and the other civilians they hold as hostages. If they do so, they will have to suffer the consequences and the severe reaction of Macedonian security forces, and prisons in Macedonia and Hague would not be large enough to keep them" Milososki said.
Once the deadline expires, the Macedonian security forces will continue with the armed operations against terrorists. "We send this appeal in order to avoid the civilian casualties," Milososki said.
Milososki also informed that the Macedonian Government appeals to the population to refrain from initiating and participating in mass public protest. "In case if such protest are held, any attempt of violation of the public law and order will be prevented," he said.
Gjorgji Trendafilov, spokesperson of the Macedonian Defence Ministry, said that Friday morning in 8:00 the Macedonian Army resumed the operations in the wider area of Kumanovo, near the villages of Slupcane, Lojane and Vaksince.
"The Macedonian Army did not suffer any casualties. There are neither killed nor wounded soldiers" Trendafilovski said, denying the information that a Macedonian Army helicopter had been shot down.
"The Macedonian Army deploys artillery, armored units, air force, and a certain number of tanks" Trendafilov sad, adding that the Army would use all available means to destroy the terrorists in the region. "The operation will continue until all tasks set in the operation plan are completed" he pointed out.
Trendafilov informed that according to the primary estimates, the terrorist groups suffered great losses in the Thursday night offensive of the Macedonian security forces.
According to Trendafilov, the army has been trying to contact the captured Macedonian soldier and find out whether he is still alive.
Stevo Pendarovski, spokesperson of the Macedonian Interior Ministry, said that the population of Kumanovo, Tetovo, and Bitola obey the order of restricted movement.
Pendarovski informed that Thursday night unknown persons broke the store window and threw a hand fragmentation grenade M75 into the candy shop "Palma" located on the "Partizanski odredi" boulevard. There are no casualties, and only a considerable material damage was done. The police investigation is in progress.
"We received information that two stores in Dracevo were allegedly set on fire Thursday night. The investigation is in progress, and it will show whether it was a case of arson, or of bad electrical system" Pendarovski said.
He informed that the Police apprehended around fifty people in relation to the riots in Bitola. So far criminal charges were pressed only against the owner of the bar "Suzi", who fired shots at the crowd that demolished his bar, and wounded one person. "We can expect other criminal charges on Monday" he said.
Pendarovski informed that the police are investigating the murder in the restaurant "Lozana" in Skopje, and added that the police still had no suspects. "No organization took responsibility for the murder so far" Pendarovski said, adding that the information published in some of the media on Thursday, that an organization called "Todor Aleksandrov" took responsibility was not confirmed.
According to Pendarovski, only several tens of citizens answered the Macedonian Government appeal to leave their homes because of the armed operations of the Macedonian security forces, and asked for help. "We believe that there are around 2,000 people that remained in Slupcane only, and the situation in the other villages is similar. Most of these people are women and children, which additionally worsen the Macedonian security forces operation," Pendarovski said.
In this context, Gjorgji Trendafilov stated that the Army has information that in Vaksince there are around 1,500 women and children, which the terrorists use as a live shield. "Macedonian security forces open fire only at selected, legitimate targets" Trendafilovski pointed out.
Albanian rebels use human shields.
FROM JOHN PHILLIPS IN SKOPJE
SECURITY forces in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia stepped up an offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels yesterday in fighting that inflicted heavy civilian casualties as guerrillas used women and children as human shields, diplomatic and military sources said.
At least five civilians were killed and several others, including children, were seriously wounded in the offensive against National Liberation Army (NLA) fighters. It began on Thursday after ten Slav soldiers and police were killed by rebels in two separate ambushes close to Kosovo, said the International Committee of the Red Cross and Albanian guerrilla sources, quoted by Belgrades independent B-92 radio. Two of the dead were killed by mortar fire on the village of Vaksince and the other three in the village of Slupcane, near by, the sources said.
The Government says the guerrillas are forcing as many as 2,000 civilians to remain in the new battle area around the town of Kumanovo and its province. In Tirana the NLA said its fighters had killed five more Macedonian soldiers since the Government offensive started, and wounded 11 others. For a second day yesterday, government authorities issued a renewed but much tougher warning to civilians in the area to leave their villages by late afternoon, taking identification documents with them and using only the motorway to Kumanovo. Whoever uses outlying roads could become a target, a statement by the Defence and Interior Ministry said.
Government claims that the rebels are forcing civilians to remain in their homes have been hard to judge. But the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said its observers in the area had confirmed some intimidation is being used to prevent civilians leaving their homes.
Macedonia Expects Logistics from Bulgaria.
It's not dangerous for the Bulgarians to travel, because the situation is under control, the spokesman of the Cabinet in Skopje says
We hope that Bulgaria will continue to provide logistics to Macedonia as your country is an important factor in the region and has influence within the international community. That was what Antonio Milosevsky, spokesman for the Macedonian government, said yesterday before 'Darik' radio. He explained that Skopje has military, economic and technical support of many countries. Most important and significant to us at the present moment is the political aid, Milosevsky said. 'The situation in Macedonia at the moment is under control, with an exception of six-seven villages in the region of Kumanovo, where the terrorists are concentrated. In the rest of Macedonia's territory there aren't serious incidents', the spokesman for the cabinet in Skopje declared. Referring to the recommendation of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, that Bulgarians should refrain from travelling to Macedonia, Milosevsky said, that there's nothing dangerous for the travelling Bulgarians, because the situation is under control. Milosevsky said that it's not possible to meet the demands of the Albanians for the extension of their constitutional rights and making Albanian the second official language.
Macedonia Is in Flames, NATO Watches it through Binoculars.
The crisis in Macedonia might easily set the Balkans on fire and the threat comes from a possible reshaping of the borders. The idea sounds too extreme, to some it may be even crazy, but regrettably this is not inevitable. It was even elaborated by senior Western diplomats as a possible outcome of the spiral of the Balkan wars. The development of the crisis in Macedonia of late does not predict anything good, either. Obviously the authorities in Skopje cannot cope with the Albanian terrorists and this is the reason why they insisted on establishing martial law. They need it both in terms of a technical and operational measure to extend the scope of their activity, and also to prompt mankind that they are fighting to preserve the integrity of their state. However, EU and NATO categorically oppose this and keep upholding their stand that the Macedonian territory is the target of attacks by organized crime groups. Which automatically makes them refrain from any military interference. Why the NATO soldiers keep watching, through binoculars, the movement of armed Albanians via the border between Kosovo and Macedonia, instead of guarding that border, is still inexplicable. The West's sole advice to Skopje is to conduct a dialogue with the Albanian parties. And they, for their part, insist on an amendment to the constitution. An eventual amendment might result in Macedonia's federalization on an ethnic principle and in a territorial re-distribution of the two peoples. Then things could be brought to pushing the Macedonian Slavs to the area around Skopje. An attempt at unification of the Albanian people in the Balkans, all the more so that Kosovo's statute is still the subject of debates, is not to be ruled out as a possible move. And apart from Albanians, there are almost no people there. And how would the Macedonian Slavs, pressed as they are, in the miniature area around and to the west of Skopje act?