Conflict has continued in the border village of Tanushevci this week, with Macedonian armed forces fighting Albanian rebels. The situation escalated on Sunday, which saw the first reported fatalities. Three Macedonian soldiers were killed in the Tanushevci area; two when their vehicle ran over a landmine near Ramno (approx. 1km into Macedonia), a third by a sniper shot. No casualties or fatalities have been reported by the rebels, but reports indicate that six sniper nests, two machine-gun nests and eight bunkers were destroyed by the security forces, which the media has interpreted as a virtual assurance that the rebels have also sustained losses.
Sporadic firing continued throughout the week emanating from Tanushevci, from a village near the Kodra Fura watchtower and from across the border in Kosovo. For a brief period mid-week, the northern border crossings at Blace and Jazhince were closed, reopening on Thursday. A mid-week withdrawal of the rebel forces into Kosovo was reported by several foreign news agencies and then widely within the country. These reports spoke of an unspecified number of men taking off their uniforms and leaving their weapons before crossing the border back into Kosovo and heading in the direction of Debalde. KFOR have stepped up their presence along the border and in the Debalde area.
An extremist group is alleged to have sent identifying papers to both Koha Ditore (Kosovo daily newspaper) and the Albanian language programme of the German broadcaster, Deutsche Welle. This identifies them as the National Liberation Army; the same organisation that claimed responsibility for the recent attack on the police station in Tearce. However, no further proof of identity or demands have been released by the rebels.
The response of the government to the events of the week has been serious but calm. President (and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces) Boris Trajkovski made an appearance at the Parliament, and issued a statement to MPs and members of the Diplomatic Corps, in which he said that Macedonia had the strategy and resources to respond to this terrorism, stating clearly that no territory would be ceded to extremists.
In a statement to news agency Kosova Live, Defence Minister Srgan Kerim stated that the rebels in Tanushevci were effectively holding inter-ethnic relations in the country hostage; trying to provoke action by the armed forces that they can use as evidence of anti-Albanianism in Macedonia and possibly as justification for further actions.
At a practical level, contacts have been intensified between senior political and military figures from Macedonia with the diplomatic corps in the country and the heads of KFOR and UNMIK, Carlo Cabidioso and Hans Haekkerup, respectively, who arrived in Skopje this week. An agreement has been concluded to co-ordinate activities of Macedonian National Army and KFOR.
The head of the OSCE spill-over mission to Macedonia, Carlo Ungaro, has praised the restraint of the Macedonian armed forces in the face of provocation and joined the condemnation of the extremists' actions. The general message from the International Community has been that the use of reasonable force to control the situation would be acceptable and justified to maintain the territorial integrity of the country. The police reserve forces have been fully mobilised and army reserve forces partially.
Macedonia has requested the creation of a buffer zone (based on the same principle as the GSZ in Kosovo) to isolate the rebels. NATO Secretary General George Robertson has expressed his reticence to create such a zone, possibly in light of the current debate raging of whether to allow Yugoslav forces into the GSZ in the Preševo region to deter further violence there.
Possibility of conflict moving
Towards the end of the week, 177 women and children were noted moving in an organised fashion from Goshince, a Kumanovo village, towards Skopje. This gave rise to speculation that the conflict was spreading from Tanushevci to include other border villages such as Goshince and Llojane. Interviews with the refugees (now accommodated mostly within Skopje and Araçinovo—a peripheral village) were contradictory as they said they were fleeing an impending attack—some said from the Albanian extremists, others from Macedonian armed forces. No paramilitary groups have been sighted in this region, however small; armed groups have been spotted in mountain villages behind the northwestern town of Tetovo.
And in other news...
- The organising board of the Struga Poetry Evenings Festival announced this week that Irish poet Seamus Heaney will be this year's recipient of the "Golden Wreath" award. This year's festival will be the 40th annual event and will be held in the southern city of Struga from 22 to 26 August.
- Žito Lux, the largest Macedonian bakery chain, has been sold to a Greek buyer, and Skopje Saem has been bought by Slovenian investors.
Eleanor Pritchard, 9 March 2001
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