Sunday, November 11, 2007

Balkans: Macedonia clashes 'signal wider unrest'
Police display confiscated weaponry in Skopje, Nov. 9 (photo credit: MIA)
Belgrade and Skopje, 9 Nov.(AKI) – Macedonian police clashes with “criminal bands” on Wednesday in which six ethnic Albanians were killed and 13 arrested may signal wider conflict in the region, political and military analysts said on Friday. The police swept mountainous area near the town of Tetovo, bordering Serbia’s breakaway Kosovo province, in search of armed bands which have been operating in the area. After a ten-hour shootout, six “criminals” were killed, police said, and a cache of heavy and light weapons were discovered.The weapons seized on the Sara Mountain were to be displayed to foreign military attaches in Skopje on Friday, police minister Gordana Jankulovska was quoted as saying by the MIA news agency. The police said most of the bandits involved in Wednesday's clashes recently escaped from jail in neighboring Kosovo, which has been under United Nations control since 1999. They bandits had been sentenced for various crimes and Macedonian authorities suspect they were helped to escape by ethnic Albanian guards, several of whom had been arrested afterwards.But despite Skopje’s insistence on the criminal aspect of the Wednesday shootout, a mysterious Tetovo-based organization calling itself 'The Political-military organizational committee of Kosovo liberation armies' said in a statement they were “forced to organise themselves into regular military units to defend the Albanian people and its territories”. Ethnic Albanians, who make about 25 per cent of Macedonia’s two million population, rebelled in 2001, but the dispute was settled by the Ohrid peace accord which granted them greater rights and regional autonomy.Tetovo, with predominantly ethnic Albanian population, was the centre of the rebellion and the police said most of those killed on Wednesday were spearheading the 2001 uprising. The Tetovo organisation said in the statement there would be no peace in the Balkans until all ethnic Albanians living in the region were free to unite with Albania.The unrest in Macedonia coincided with growing support from Western powers for majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, who demand independence from Serbia, despite strenuous opposition from Belgrade. A prominent Belgrade military analyst, Miroslav Lazanski, said Kosovo independence would provoke a domino effect in Macedonia, Montenegro and even Greece, which have a sizeable ethnic Albanian minority.“That means Macedonia is next,” Lazanski told Serbian news agency Tanjug. “Encouraging separatism and Kosovo's independence will surely raise tensions in Macedonia and spread the conflict there,” he said. “The high tide of violence and separatist ambitions” will later spread to Montenegro, Lazanski warned. “When you encourage one, others come forward with the same demands and they will not stop until they are all united in a Greater Albania,” he said. “What’s common to all Albanian political organisations is that they are a part of a single Albanian national plan in the Balkans,” said another analyst, Aleksandar Radic. Meanwhile, Kosovo ethnic Albanian leaders have warned that incidents like the one in Tetovo were detrimental to their independence drive and called for restraint.The Albanian foreign ministry in Tirana condemned violence in Macedonia and appealed to local authorities not to use excessive force in areas populated by ethnic Albanians. NATO airstrikes in 1999 drove out Serbian troops amid ethnic fighting and gross human rights abuses during a two-year war with ethnic Albanian guerrillas. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. Thousands of people died in the conflict.

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