Amnesty condemn Macedonian police
Amnesty International has released a report condemning "torture, ill-treatment and possible extrajudicial executions" carried out as part of an investigation into the killing of three Macedonian police officers.
The victims of the shooting, which took place on 11 January in the Albanian village of Araçinovo, outside Skopje (Shkup), were carrying out routine stop-and-checks when the incident occurred.
Widespread police searches of Albanian houses in the region ensued and were characterised by excessive force. The report cites an incident on 14 January in which six men and two 15-year-old boys were forced to lie face-down outside a house, where they were kicked and beaten for up to three hours. The beating was allegedly accompanied by derogatory and racist references about their Albanian ethnicity.
Stories of aggressive treatment of Albanians by Macedonian police are not uncommon, and serve as a reminder that - although Macedonia's human rights record is considerably better than that of Yugoslavia / Serbia - there is no excuse for complacency. The state still has a considerable amount of work to do before human rights are genuinely guaranteed and protected for all, regardless of ethnicity.
Persons arrested by the police have reported instances of torture, and claim to have been kept incommunicado and denied basic rights "such as access to a lawyer of their choice," the report noted. One Albanian died while in police custody, and his family have not yet received an autopsy report.
An experienced independent pathologist who viewed a videotape of the body noted what appeared to be a bullet hole in the left temple, along with indications it had been fired from close range.
Following the release of the Amnesty report, the pro-government Albanian-language daily Flaka reported that 11 employees in the Interior Ministry were replaced following their "misconduct" in the investigation.
The government itself has yet to respond to Amnesty's call for a full enquiry.
Many column inches were devoted to a television "duel" this week between Social Democratic (SDSM) leader Branko Crvenkovski and Prime Minister Ljubčo Gjeorgjievski, as relations between the government and opposition become increasingly hostile.
The television duel is a familiar routine in Balkan politics and is invariably a victory for the opposition figure - as it was decreed to have been in this case. The general consensus was that Crvenkovski, whose SDSM is the largest opposition party, made Gjeorgjievski look like a tired, worn-out prime minister, although more generous members of the press acknowledged it to be far simpler to shine in opposition than in government.
Other political developments this week included a direct accusation by the independent Albanian-language daily Fakti that the Macedonian opposition is pro-Serb.
Fakti reported that SDSM sees Serbian troops as a guarantee of Macedonia's sovereignty and countries such as Belarus, Mongolia, Cuba and North Korea as ideological allies.
That position was placed in stark contrast with the pro-European, Western-oriented image the governing VMRO-DPMNE coalition has successfully projected, which emphasises positive relations co-operation with neighbours and on good interethnic relations.
The media have been working towards such an explicit statement for several weeks, having circumspectly ascribed various recent destabilising events, such as the border attacks at Blace and Lojane, to the opposition's alleged collusion with Belgrade.
Smoking bad for political health
Last week's report on issues related to cigarette smuggling in and through Macedonia prompted a spirited retaliation from the government. Branding the story that appeared in the independent newspaper Dnevnik and on independent TV station A1 "Goebbels lies," government spokesman Antonio Milososoki said that the reports had done irreparable damage to international opinion toward Macedonia.
Cigarettes hit the headlines again this week, as a director of Makedonija Tabak decided to present "Partner" cigarettes as a domestic product. International tobacco giant Philip Morris says it has been producing the cigarettes in a factory in Prilep for years.
In a further twist, Dnevnik alleged that some of the factories are working up to three shifts a day to produce black market cigarettes, which are then stored in special bunkers before being sold for profits totalling several million German marks per year.
Do we smell burning, or is it all just smoke in the wind?
In, out and passing through
President Boris Trajkovski visited Strasbourg this week. His eventful trip included an address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, talks with the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, a visit to the European Court for Human Rights and meetings with other top officials of Council of Europe. Trajkovski then travelled to Salzburg to participate in the World Economic Forum for Central and Eastern Europe.
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) High Commissioner for Ethnic Minorities Max van der Stoel, paid an unofficial visit to Macedonia this week to meet with Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh) leaders who are participants in the current coalition government, to discuss details of the new Institute for Higher Education in the Albanian Language. Sources say the talks focused on funding for the institution, which will be provided by the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
Chris Patten, EU Commissioner for External Relations, arrived in Macedonia this week for talks with high-level government figures and opposition representatives. During his visit, a Memorandum of Understanding is scheduled to be signed between Macedonian and United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo customs officials.
Eleanor Pritchard, 1 July 2000
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