News 24 Dec 14

Macedonia President Not Assassinated, Probe Says

New probe says it found no evidence that the 2004 plane crash that killed Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski was caused by an in-flight explosion.

Elvira Jukic and Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Sarajevo, Skopje

Bust of Boris Trajkovski at the Skopje cemetery | Photo by: Sase Dimovski

The new probe into the former president's death has dismissed reports that the aircraft carrying Trajkovski and his staff might have exploded in mid-air, Bosnian television, FTV, reported.

The probe reportedly also dismissed suspicions that French SFOR soldiers who were running the control tower in the southwestern Bosnian town of Mostar were in part to blame for the crash.

Trajkovski died on February 26, 2004, on his way to an international conference in Bosnia. The government plane crashed near Mostar airport amid thick fog and heavy rain. Eight other people died in the disaster.

Unlike the first probe, which blamed mistakes by the pilots, the new investigation says "system errors" on the part of Macedonian Aviation Authorities also led to the crash, FTV reported.

The plane was reportedly unfit to fly and the pilots were improperly trained to fly it, but the Macedonian Aviation Authorities gave it a green light just the same.

The probe, FTV reported, notes that the plane's black box that records key flight data, was malfunctioning and that the pilots, who were changed 15 days before the accident, were not properly trained to fly ''Beechcraft Super King Air 200 Z3-BAB'' planes.

The errors of the Macedonian Aviation Authorities "contributed to the lowering of the level of security of the entire system of civil aviation in Macedonia" the report reads, adding that there were "omissions in the system of training of pilots for special purposes" as well as "frequent interruptions in the continuity of flight" that "influenced security and directly contributed to the accident".

The reports says the direct cause of the accident occurred during the landing procedure, when the plane went down too low and crashed into the hills before meeting the landing strip in Mostar.

The report further says that the pilots were not fully aware of foggy conditions at Mostar airport, and that, during landing, they turned off the autopilot, which could have maintained proper altitude.

The fresh inquiry carried out by a commission under Omer Kulic was handed this month to both the Macedonian and Bosnian authorities. They will now decide whether to charge anyone or not.

The new probe was launched last year on the request of the Macedonian government, which said new evidence ought to be taken into consideration.

This came after a previous investigation by a joint Bosnian-Macedonian team concluded that the crash was an accident and blamed mistakes made by the crew while landing.

The previous investigation however, failed to dampen speculation about the causes of Trajkovski’s death. Some said the amount of time spent in finding the wreckage was suspicious while others spoke of a reported in-flight explosion.

Others blamed the Mostar control tower, which was then run by the French military. Others claimed political rivals at home in Macedonia sought and arranged the president's death.

Trajkovski’s twin brother, Aleksandar, who has since died, suggested he might have been assassinated but never named a suspect.

Andreas Gross, a Swiss member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and a personal friend, also said he suspected foul play.

In 2012, Ignat Pancevski, lawyer to the family of one of the victims who died with Trajkovski, said evidence suggested Trajkovski’s aircraft was shot down by a military jet.

Trajkovski became President of Macedonia in 1999 and was head of state in 2001, when armed conflict erupted with ethnic Albanian militants.

He defended the internationally-brokered 2001 Ohrid peace accord, which ended the conflict by granting greater rights to the Albanian community.

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