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News 21 Apr 15

Macedonia Claims Kosovo Albanians Attacked Border Post

After Macedonian police claimed masked gunmen speaking Albanian had stormed a remote border police post, some Albanians accused the authorities of trying to distract the public from the country's ongoing internal crisis.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The police is situated at the entrance of Goshince | Photo by: BIRN

Macedonian police on Tuesday said a group of 40 armed and masked gunmen wearing the markings of an Albanian paramilitary unit, the National Liberation Army, NLA, stormed a police outpost near Kosovo at 2.30 am Tuesday.

Police Spokesperson Ivo Kotevski told a press conference in Skopje that a "terrorist attack" had taken place.

The spokesman said the attackers, who appeared to be from Kosovo, spoke Albanian and took four policemen who were manning the border post hostage. 

They then tied three of them up and beat them while filming the whole thing on camera.

"The leader of the group, speaking in Albanian... told the captured police officers the following: 'We are from the NLA and tell everyone that nobody can save you, neither [Prime Minister] Nikola Gruevski, nor [head of the junior ruling Albanian DUI party] Ali Ahmeti. We want our own state".

According to Kotevski, the police officers were told that they risked being executed.

After the hostage takers left, the spokesperson said that the fourth officer, who was not tied up, helped the four captives to escape on foot. While departing the scene, the officers heard shots from automatic weapon.

Police said they were taking measure to clear up the attack but no more information was available owing to the complexity of the situation.

Macedonian border police convoy near Goshince | Photo by: BIRN

The scene of the reported attack, the village of Goshince, part of the ethnic Albanian rural municipality of Lipkovo, is some 25 kilometres northeast from the capital of Skopje towards the border with Kosovo.

The region was on the frontline of armed hostilities during a short armed conflict in Macedonia in 2001.

The secretary general of Lipkovo municipality, Nexhadi Osmani, told BIRN that they had not noticed any increased police presence or the presence of unidentified gunmen.

"All we know is what we hear from the police and many people here are still not informed about what is happening. But I can vouch that the people here do not hold any ethnic grudge against anyone," he said. "We have lived through war and we know best what it's like. We do not want to go through it again," he added.

Back in 2001 conflict erupted between Albanian insurgents and the security forces. It ended with the Ohrid peace accord, which offered more rights to the Albanians who make one quarter of the population of 2.1 million. In return for the deal, the insurgents from the NLA disbanded and formed the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, which now sits in government.

The incidents comes amid a political crisis in Macedonia revolving around opposition claims that the Prime Minister has orchestrated the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people.

Critics of the government have accused it of plotting a spike in ethnic tension to distract attention from the affair.

On Tuesday, the DUI, representing ethnic Albanians, called the whole affair a provocation.

"The DUI calls on all the citizens not to worry and not to fall for provocations," the junior party in government said, adding that such incidents only served to distract the country from the goal of interethnic integration and reconciliation.

Meanwhile, the former commandant of the now disbanded NLA in the region of Lipkovo was quoted by a news agency Zhurnal as claiming that the incident in Goshince had been staged by the Macedonian secret service in order to mobilize Macedonians against Albanians and rally them to the embattled government.

"These cases have been fabricated by the government in a professional manner... The aim is to unite Macedonians against Albanians. The government has paid some people to create a problem up there to manipulate public opinion," Abedin Zymberi was quoted as saying.

“The longer we wait [for a resolution of the crisis] the higher the risk that someone might hire small criminal groups of Albanians to try to stage a conflict. Albanian criminals might be used to attack Macedonian villages or vice versa,” a former legislator and political analyst, Mersel Biljali, recently told BIRN.


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