news 28 Nov 17

Kosovo Veterans Protest at Macedonia Shootout Convictions

Kosovo Liberation Army veterans marked Albanian independence day by protesting against the convictions of 33 ethnic Albanians found guilty of involvement in a deadly gun battle with police in Kumanovo, Macedonia.

Die Morina
The protest by KLA veterans in Pristina. Photo: BIRN.

Hundreds of Kosovo Liberation Army veterans and their supporters protested in Pristina on Tuesday against this month’s verdict convicting 33 ethnic Albanians of terrorism for their involvement in the gun battle with police in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo in May 2015 which left 18 people dead, including eight police.

The protesters held up placards with slogans like “Justice for injustice”, “We are all the Kumanovo Group” and “Let the truth be disclosed”.

The protest concluded with a song dedicated to those who fought against the Macedonian security forces in Kumanovo, many of whom are former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Muhamet Bilalli, the representative of three associations of veterans and their families, said the convicts and those who died in the shootout were not terrorists.

“No matter what the [politicians] call them, they are freedom fighters,” Bilalli said.

He blamed Kosovo and Albania for not revealing more about the background to the shootout in Kumanovo.

“The two republics did not see as necessary to disclose the background to what happened in this conflict,” Bilalli said.

A representative of relatives of the Kumanovo convicts, Dashurie Sefaj, said that they were not celebrating the anniversary of Albania’s independence but protesting because “those who fought for the good of Albanians, to improve lives of those who are discriminated against, have been convicted”.

Skopje Criminal Court on November 2 gave life sentences to seven of the 37 ethnic Albanian defendants accused of involvement in the two-day shootout.

Thirteen other people were sentenced to 40 years in prison, six got 20 years, one got 18 years, two got 14 years, two got 13 years and two were sentenced to 12 years. Four of the 37 defendants were acquitted.

The defendants were found guilty of terrorism, either for participating in or assisting the violence.

On November 10, Kosovo decided to give 219,000 euros to cover the expenses of family members of those convicted of involvement in or killed during this conflict

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said “each family will be allocated 10,000 euros from the [state budget reserves]”.

NOTE: This article has been amended on November 28 to say that 33 people were found guilty of involvement in a gun battle in Kumanovo. The previous version mistakenly said 37 people were convicted.

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