Ominous signs in Macedonia?

While analysts disagree over the likelihood of renewed conflict in Macedonia, there have been some ominous signs over the past few weeks. They would seem to suggest that a certain section of the Albanian separatist movement remains unsatisfied with the peace process, and will not easily drop their weapons. The fact that there have been two assassination attempts in the past two months on former NLA chief Ali Ahmeti shows this clearly. According to Albanian sources, Ahmeti is being targeted by certain commanders. They accuse him of failing to push hard for a total amnesty of NLA fighters at the peace talks in Ochrid last Summer.

The announcement a few weeks ago that the Albanian National Army (ANA) was resuming the fight was soon followed by a strange communiquй signed by the spokesman of the NLA. This document, which Ahmeti denied any knowledge of, also announced a renewed war against Macedonia. A well-placed American source sneered at the authenticity of the threat, and chalked it up to Macedonian propaganda. Whether or not this is the case, it is undeniable that shootings still continue in Macedonia.

Another sign of continued Albanian intransigence occurred over two weeks ago, but was not reported. At that time the municipality of Tearce, a mountainous village overrun by the NLA, received an ultimatum: no Macedonian police could come there until at least 2006. Police redeployment in NLA-held Macedonian towns is a vital part of the confidence building measures of the international community. But although the ultimatum was delivered to the OSCE, and through them to the Macedonian government, both sources declined to publish this information.

There have also been numerous disturbances over the past two months, mostly of a minor nature, but some more serious. Army checkpoints in Tetovo are the object of sporadic gunfire from Albanians on the hillside of Sar Planina, an attempt by the NLA to mark its continued presence. On 21 January, a brief border skirmish in Blace was reported, in which four gunmen from the Kosovo side attempted to attack a Macedonian checkpoint, but were repelled. Macedonian news agencies are reporting violations of the cease-fire on an almost daily basis in the villages near Tetovo, and in the Lipkovo-Kumanovo region. In short, it is uncertain whether the snowbound Albanians are merely amusing themselves by shooting at random, or testing the Macedonian security forces, with an eye to restarting the war.

Chris Deliso

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