Highly localized fighting has continued throughout the week, at several locations along the northern border. The identity and objectives of the extremists has remained hazy; the only stated aim being the generic "greater rights for Albanians." The media has, for the most part, maintained a determined objectivity, using carefully chosen vocabulary. Far more serious has been the effect of international reports on the situation which have fed back to the country through re-broadcasts and portray the situation as war in all but name.
The smoldering conflict in Tanushevci ended on Monday when Macedonian state security forces entered and secured the village. No injuries were sustained by the state security forces during the operation. The village is situated on a borderline between Macedonian and Kosovo which has, until now, been undefined.
Macedonian forces encountered KFOR in the village, which caused local concern, as the Albanian residents stated explicitly that they carried Macedonian passports and had no desire to be citizens of Kosovo. The village has been de-mined throughout the week and was declared clean on Friday 16 March. The estimated 250 rebels from Tanushevci are believed to have split, some moving to other local villages, others joining the group which appeared later in the week above the northwestern town of Tetovo. Temporary police stations were opened in Brest and Goshince last Thursday (8 March) as preventative security measures, and to try and persuade those residents (predominantly women and children) who had moved to Skopje to return home.
Ground Safety Zone
Mid-week, FRY troops entered the Ground Safety Zone with the blessing of NATO, in an attempt to secure the conflict-ridden Preševo region and prevent the extremists there linking up with those operating along the northern border of Macedonia. The entry was uneventful and did not raise negative commentary in Macedonia either from politics or media.
Towards the end of the week, a new outbreak of conflict above the northwestern town of Tetovo assumed center stage. Extremists situated high on the Šar mountain range started to fire at the police station in the town. Reinforcements were immediately deployed to the area, after which extremists engaged the security forces. There is no suggestion that extremists want to take the predominantly Albanian town or that they want non-Albanians to leave.
An Albanian civilian was killed by stray sniper fire from the mountains which is believed to have been intended for police in the town. After this, local news broadcasts advised residents to stay in their houses and not to move around the town unless it was essential to avoid such accidents.
Despite sporadic fire from both police and extremists through day and night, much of the town continues to operate as normal. People still travel in and out of the town, traffic continues after night fall. Factories are visibly working, and people living in Tetovo report hearing machine gun fire and grenade launchers but no dramatic changes. People are scared (as much of rebels as of the police), but not yet at the level of panic suggested by much international media. Ethnic Macedonians remain in the city, and there is no suggestion yet that the violence will spread to street level.
Reports as to the number of extremists situated above Tetovo vary, from between the 200 rebels believed to have fled Tanushevci as security forces moved in, to local (and unconfirmed reports) that there are up to 500 men; 200 fighting and 300 stationed behind them higher up the mountain providing strategic and logistical support.
Macedonian Security Council meets
A meeting of the Macedonian Security Council was held on Thursday 15 March to discuss the situation within the country, prior to which Boris Trajkovski issued an unambiguous statement saying there was no need to invoke a state of national emergency for a localized group of contained extremists. The Council concluded the situation in Macedonian to be deteriorating and identified representatives of the former Liberation Army of Kosovo (UÇK) crossing from Kosovo as responsible for the situation.
It called on all political parties to avoid creating inflammatory situations and to make the security of the state their paramount objective. To the population it issued an appeal to remain calm and to resist any appeals from the extremists to join the fighting, should such emerge. To the international community it directed a strongly worded statement that if KFOR stepped up its presence along the Kosovo border, a significant contribution would be made to the stability of both Macedonia and the region.
PDPSh urges political dialogue
Arbër Xhaferi, head of the PDPSh party in the coalition government, issued a statement this week urging those fighting to lay down their arms and enter political dialogue to secure their aims. This statement, from perhaps the most influential Albanian politician in the country, was welcomed by the Macedonian media as a reassurance that this party at least does not support the extremist actions. He also made two further notable statements; firstly that if a state of emergency is declared, his party will leave the coalition government and, secondly, that if the extremists can find a political representation which can secure their aims, PDPSh will step down from political life.
Ibrahim Rugova, Albanian leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, urged the Macedonian government to go to the Albanian community and take the initiative to discover what problems it had, as this would start to address the "equality of rights" demanded by the extremists.
Minister of Interior identifies extremists
On Wednesday 14 March, Interior Minister Dosta Dimovska identified the extremists as ex-UÇK Kosovars supported by a small number of Macedonian Albanians. According to her statement, security forces seized lists of terrorist groups when entering Tanushevci at the beginning of the week, which enables this identification.
She pointed out the problem that Macedonian security forces could contain the rebels from their side, but the geography of the region leaves them with an open "back door" unless the Kosovo side of the northern border is also heavily secured. She went on to say that for this reason further attacks are possible and appealed for unity for the citizens of Macedonia both in Tetovo and within a wider context.
And in other news...
- A policeman was killed in the vicinity of Brest village on Thursday 8 March, when his jeep hit an anti-tank mine.
- The northern border of Macedonia was sealed at 2pm on Friday 9 March; with the exception of KFOR, UNMIK and OSCE vehicles.
- Friday 16 March a 100m strip inside the border was declared off limits (except to residents) by the Macedonian security forces to decrease the number of persons in this zone of tension.
Eleanor Pritchard, 16 March 2001
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