The situation in Tetovo has remained serious throughout the week, with statements and counterstatements flowing back and forth on both sides. The rebel group's multiple statements and interviews to international news agencies have illustrated a wide interpretation of their stated objectives.
International bodies and persons have rushed to condemn the actions of the UÇKombëtare this week, expressing support for and confidence in the Macedonian government; all using almost identical vocabulary. Monday 19 March, NATO Secretary General George Robertson assured Defence Minister Srgan Kerim that NATO supports the Macedonian government but that there was no question of extending KFOR's mandate into Macedonia (a sentiment reiterated by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on the same day). Lord Robertson committed to sending extra troops to the Kosovo-Macedonia border to help cut off supply routes to the rebels.
On Wednesday, Lord Robertson issued a press release detailing the areas of cooperation which NATO would be stepping up to support the government. These included the redeployment of existing KFOR troops to the border, a senior NATO representative deployed to Skopje to support the existing NATO liaison officer and the establishment of a military liaison team at the Macedonian Ministry of Defence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed grave concern that the situation in all areas currently experiencing unrest (northern Macedonia, southern Serbia and Kosovo) is spiralling out of control. Putin recommended that urgent action be taken by the international community to prevent further deterioration. It is widely believed that these prophecies of doom stem from Russia's discontent at the situation in Kosovo and its previous lack of support for military measures taken against Yugoslavia under Milošević.
The EU confirmed its support for the Macedonian government in a statement issued from Brussels on Monday 19 March. Anna Lindh, Swedish foreign minister and acting EU chairwoman, reiterated EU support for Macedonia and its commitment to equal rights through political dialogue. This was reinforced when EU envoy Javier Solana visited Skopje on Tuesday and issued a statement saying there is no place for such violence in the 21st century and that the solution to the problems must be sought by political means. He went on to stress the recent progress made by Macedonia and other Balkan countries in their quest for EU membership, implying that a continuation of violence would jeopardise this status.
These statements have been received with confusion by all ethnicities that cannot equate the strident words with the apparent lack of action on the behalf of the international community.
The government held a two-day closed session from which it emerged to having secured an overwhelming majority (97 in favour, six abstentions) for eight resolutions proposed to shore up the functioning of the executive organs of state.
Prime Minister Ljubčo Georgievski made an address to the nation on Sunday, which excited a great deal of domestic and international comment. The majority of the speech comprised an appeal to the nation for calm and resolve in the face or provocation and thanks to neighbouring countries for their statements of support for the government and condemnation of the rebels. In the middle of the speech, however, Premier Georgievski slammed the international community for failing to respond with action instead of words. In particular, he addressed Germany and America, accusing them of knowing the identity of the rebels but failing to act to prevent the current scenario.
The rebels retain their position on the mountain above Tetovo and, despite statements issued during the week by police and army spokesmen, seemed to have moved little. Last weekend, a government helicopter crashed after apparently hitting an electricity cable at the mountain top ski resort of Popova Šapka, killing the pilot, injuring 12 passengers and diminishing the Macedonian airforce by a third. Authorities denied speculation that it had been shot down.
The government issued an ultimatum to the rebels on Tuesday giving them a 24-hour ceasefire to surrender themselves and their weapons or leave Macedonian territory. Towards the end of that period, UÇKombëtare issued a counter-offer broadcast on Kosovo television: an indefinite and unilateral ceasefire to allow for talks. However, this was not offered in conjunction with either of the government conditions and so, after the expiration of the deadline, heavy government shelling was recommenced.
The numbers of rebels are still highly contended; with estimates running from the government's projected 200, to the 2000 mentioned in an interview given by an UÇKombëtare commander.
Refugees from the conflict
Despite repeated assurance from the government and joint radio appeals by the two largest Albanian parties asking people not to flee their homes but stay and remain calm, many people have left the area. It should be stressed that the majority of these people are ethnic Albanians. Indeed, in his speech to the nation, Prime Minister Georgievski stated that he understood there to be five times as many displaced Albanians as Macedonians. Eye witness and television coverage certainly appears to bear that statement out.
The Macedonian Red Cross reported 4100 internally displaced persons by 19 March. Many more are fleeing abroad, predominantly to Turkey. On Thursday, Bulgarian officials were quoted as saying that over a three-day period some 2500 Macedonians had transited Bulgaria for Turkey.
Thursday 22 March, two Albanian men were shot dead by police at a roadblock in Tetovo. The incident was captured on video by a news crew and has been shown repeatedly. It has aroused unprecedented general anger among Albanians, as it shows the police shoot the first man whom they appear to suspect of holding a hand grenade (some local television stations have speculated that it was in fact a mobile phone), incapacitating him, then shoot him several more times after he was on the ground. The second man, an elderly passenger, was also shot dead, although the video does not capture any point at which he appears to have posed a threat to the police.
Eleanor Pritchard, 23 March 2001
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