Three Macedonian soldiers killed, border sealed.
Incidents near the ethnic Albanian village of Tanuševci, located near the border with Yugoslavia, left three Macedonian soldiers dead on 4 March, prompting officials to close the border. Macedonian officials said that, following a meeting of the highest national leadership, they had an "agreement on measures and activities and will inform the international public."
Two soldiers were killed when an anti-tank mine exploded near the village of Ravno, seven kilometers from Tanuševci. Their vehicle hit the mine at about eight thirty in the morning, but help was delayed because groups of armed ethnic Albanians opened fire on KFOR helicopters trying to evacuate the mortally wounded soldiers. The third soldier was shot by a sniper near an outpost in Tanuševci.
Three borders, regional tension
Macedonian Foreign minister Srdjan Kerim confirmed that the state leadership had sealed off the Yugoslav border, especially that bordering Kosovo. Clashes between the Macedonian army and ethnic Albanian separatists from Tanuševci lasted, according to reliable sources, all day, but the Macedonian Defense Ministry did not release any information other than the soldiers' names.
These are the most serious clashes since fighting began in the region several weeks ago. President Boris Trajkovski held consultations with Macedonian officials and foreign diplomats before noon on 4 March and also had a conversation with NATO Secretary General George Robertson.
The fighting died down later, but several Macedonian cities have begun a partial call-up of police reserves. Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim said in Skopje that Macedonia would ask the UN to establish a buffer zone along the border with Kosovo. Officials in Skopje also said that "joint operations by the Macedonian army and KFOR would begin," and that this was the result of an agreement reached by President Boris Trajkovski and KFOR commander General Carlo Cabigiosu. No other details were available, however.
Joint army and police action in the South
At a meeting on Sunday, leading government officials in Belgrade drew up a "plan for joint action" by the Yugoslav army and police in southern Serbia, a government press center in Bujanovac reported.
A statement from the center said the meeting was attended by Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica, Serbian Premier Zoran Đinđic, Serbian Deputy Premier Nebojša Čović, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanović, Yugoslav Chief of Staff Nebojša Pavković and Serbian Interior Minister Dušan Mihajlović. The participants of the meeting confirmed their support for a proposed plan to resolve the crisis in southern Serbia, the statement said.
Two years on, what has changed?
Two years ago this month, NATO launched its 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia to protect the majority ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo region. Now, the alliance is trying to cool down an upsurge of fighting just outside Kosovo's borders. But ethnic Albanian grievances—both historical and recent—ensure that the task won't be easy.
Clashes between ethnic Albanian fighters and government forces in northern Macedonia and the Preševo Valley of southern Serbia, have even triggered new international concern that a wider war could be brewing. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization responded last week with a series of measures aimed at dampening the smouldering crisis, including beefed-up patrols by US troops at the Kosovo-Macedonia border. In the Preševo Valley, Serbian authorities, ethnic Albanians and NATO representatives have been meeting to discuss a deal that would give ethnic Albanians a stronger voice in local affairs as the size of a buffer zone along Kosovo's border is gradually reduced.
Dangerous security zone
The security zone was designed to separate NATO forces in Kosovo from Yugoslav forces, but it has instead become a haven for ethnic Albanian guerrillas—which NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said Tuesday is "unacceptable." Robertson also declared that "NATO is committed to supporting the stability and security of... Macedonia, including the enhanced security of its borders."
In recent days, armed ethnic Albanians have engaged in a tense standoff with Macedonian forces while US troops have watched through binoculars from inside Kosovo. On Friday, the pilot of a light observation plane from the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosovo reported being shot at in the area. KFOR security operations directly across the border from Tanuševci have been strengthened.
Peace with new borders?
Yet people such as Naim Malaj, an ethnic Albanian shop owner in Priština, the capital of Kosovo—which officially remains a province of Serbia but is under UN administration—can't see why NATO and many foreigners involved in Kosovo's affairs insist on blaming ethnic Albanians for the recent clashes. To him, the fault lies with unfairly drawn international borders.
"Nobody wants peace more than we do, but we cannot have it because they want to resolve the Albanian issue only partially," Malaj said. "First, the international community scattered us in different countries [as the Ottoman Empire broke up nearly a century ago]—and now they blame us for some "Greater Albania."
"All we want is the right to be free, which Slavs will never give to you. You have to take it from them." One of the worries driving foreign involvement in Kosovo in 1998—when Washington pushed hard, but unsuccessfully, for a peaceful settlement to ethnic Albanian guerrilla attacks and Serbian repression—was fear that unresolved fighting could lead to a drive to create a "Greater Albania."
Greater means less peace
Western analysts worried that any such attempt to split ethnic Albanian areas from Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro could lead to a broader war that might drag in Greece and Turkey—even though both are NATO members. This nightmare scenario had Greece supporting fellow Orthodox Christians in Macedonia and Yugoslavia, while Turkey, a Muslim nation, would support the predominantly Muslim ethnic Albanians.
Today, in a revised version of this fear, there is much talk by analysts of a possible attempt by ethnic Albanians to create a "Greater Kosovo," incorporating territory from southern Serbia, Macedonia and possibly Montenegro—but not necessarily uniting with Albania, which remains a much poorer society.
"There is a tendency toward the worsening of the situation in southern Serbia, which can have a negative effect on the stability of Macedonia," Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said in televised remarks that indicated the depth of worries in his government.
Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Živković, speaking after NATO announced its new stance, declared that "there's a prevailing feeling within NATO that the so-called security zone is the most dangerous place in Europe, that it is infested with terrorists and that something should be done about that."
But Haqif Mulliqi, head of the Journalists Association of Kosovo, argued that the growth of a guerrilla force in the Preševo Valley "was and remains a consequence of the Serbs' evil and criminal policy, which unfortunately is still present in the hot heads of Belgrade politicians." The proposed reduction of the buffer zone from three miles to barely more than half a mile would "risk the physical well-being of the Albanians in those areas" because "the most notorious [Serbian] units that committed most of the crimes in Kosovo" are still based in the Preševo region, Mulliqi said. "This decision is gradually opening the pages of a bloody book."
Ever since NATO freed Kosovo from direct Serbian control by waging the 1999 air war, most ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have been convinced that independence is inevitable. Now, while they still hold that belief, they also have been disturbed by how quickly NATO member-states have improved their ties with the new democratic authorities in Belgrade.
The United Nations and NATO have never endorsed the idea of independence for Kosovo, preferring that it remain part of Yugoslavia. Thus, the province's ethnic Albanians, who make up about 95 percent of the population, fear that the international community will team up with its new friends in Belgrade to try to reinforce a continued link with Serbia.
Daniel Speckhard, an aide to Robertson who participated in talks between a NATO delegation and top Macedonian officials in Skopje told reporters afterwards that the conflict along the border with Kosovo "must be solved by political means."
"Solving it by other means may solve the short-term problem, but it can create larger problems for the inter-ethnic relations in your country," Speckhard said. "A military response is not the best mechanism to use."
Nikola Dimitrov, security advisor to President Trajkovski, blasted back. "It is a matter of great difficulty to use political means when you deal with terrorists in defending your territory," Dimitrov said. "This is very irresponsible on behalf of NATO... Remaining passive will allow [the guerrillas] to strengthen their positions and go into other villages. It is only one village now, but if we do not take measures now, the problem might grow out of proportion."
Nebojša Vladisavljević, 12 March 2001
- Read past news reviews for Serbia
- Read articles on Yugoslavia in CER
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on CEE through CER
- Return to CER front page