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news 03 Nov 17

Macedonia Shootout Verdicts Trigger Protests in Kosovo

People in Kosovo have protested against the heavy sentences issued to those involved in a gunbattle in Macedonia in 2015, as PM Haradinaj said he had called back Kosovo's ambassador for consulations.

Die Morina, Shkodran Nikci
Protesters in Kosovo burning the Macedonian flag on Thursday evening | Photo: BIRN

Dozens of protesters gathered in Peja, Kosovo, on Thursday to condemn the heavy jail terms bestowed on 37 Albanians accused of taking part in a bloody two-day gun battle with police in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo in May 2o15.

Kosovo's Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, said he had recalled Kosovo's ambassador to Macedonia for consutations.

Participants at the rally in Peja burned the Macedonian flag as a sign of anger.

“We are very concerned with this injustice that once again was done to Albanians,” said Melisa Zekaj, the daughter of Valdet Zekaj, to whom the court in Skopje gave life sentence.

Many of the 37 defendants are originally from Kosovo and are former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

Zekaj said she was disappointed especially with the Kosovo government, led by Haradinaj, for not protecting its own citizens.

Ahead of the PM's statement, she said: "Citizens voted for them in he hope that they would do something for the fighters, for all those who fought for this country and its ideals, but the Prime Minister has not even made one statement on the Kumanovo case."

The Skopje Criminal Court on Thursday gave life sentences to seven of the 37 ethnic Albanian defendants accused of involvement in the shootout with police in Kumanovo in 2015. Most of the rest got long jail terms.

The defendants were found guilty of terrorism, either for participation in or assistance to a two-day shootout that left 18 people dead, including eight police.

Besides the protest in Peja, in Gjilan a group of football fans also protested against the sentences.

Kosovo's largest opposition party, Vetevendosje, slated the decision of the Skopje Court as "politically motivated and inhumane", and said it had violated human rights conventions.

"The past in Macedonia has shown that many cases and lawsuits against Albanians resulted in processes mounted by state authorities, discrediting the investigative authorities and the judiciary. So far, the new government of Macedonia has not taken its responsibilities to take measures against those who mounted such cases," Vetevendosje's statement said.

Vetevendosje said only an international professional investigation into the whole event wuld deliver justice to all those involved.

"We invite the governments of Kosovo and Albania to politically and diplomatically engage in [the creation of] a fair trial and respect for human rights in the Kumanovo case," the party said.

Some of the defendants have admitted participation in the armed clashes with Macedonian police but maintained that they were victims of a politically motivated set-up, arranged by the previous government in Macedonia, led by the VMRO DPMNE party.

A new Social Democrat-led government in Macedonia under Zoran Zaev was formed in May. Prior to the verdict being passed, Zaev said his government was mulling a way for some problematic cases from the past to be processed properly.

Zaev said that he personally would like to see a retrial of the Kumanovo shootout case with international assistance in order to ensure greater impartiality. A special group of law experts is already considering a law that would allow such retrials.

Kosovo Prime Minister Haradinaj meanwhile insisted the government of Kosovo had been following the case carefully.

"We have followed with care and attention the process after the tragic events in Kumanovo in May 2015 and the sentences imposed by the Court in Skopje. Justice must be done, starting with shedding light of the event, with all its dimensions. An international investigation would help the full disclosure of the truth, to which we all strive," he said.

He added: "Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli has called the ambassador to Skopje, Ylber Hysa, back for internal consultations and has called for clarification from the Ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia in Kosovo over the same issue."

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