A court in Skopje gave suspended sentences to 14 people involved in violence between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians at the city’s fortress in 2011.
Skopje criminal court on Tuesday handed down seven-month suspended sentences to participants in the clashes between ethnic Albanians, who were angry about the controversial building of a museum in the style of a church at the fortress, and Macedonians who said they came to defend the construction site.
They were convicted of taking part in a mass brawl and obstructing officials, but will only face jail if they reoffend within two years.
Eight people were injured in the violence in February 2011.
It erupted amid fears raised by some Albanian Muslims that the church-like museum, which stands on the site of a demolished medieval church, would at some stage become an active Christian place of worship in an area of the city that they see as their own.
The violence was organised on over social networks by the ethnic Macedonian group, which was mainly composed of football fans, and the ethnic Albanians who were mobilised by an NGO called Razbudi se (Wake Up).
The leader of Razbudi se was Artan Grubi, who has since entered politics. He has been nominated by the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, the ethnic Albanian party that’s the junior partner in Macedonia’s ruling coalition, as its candidate for mayor of Skopje in the upcoming local elections scheduled for March 24.
The fortress clashes also provoked debates about the actions of deputy interior minister Xhevat Buci, an ethnic Albanian who was observed at the scene of the violence taking handcuffs off some of those arrested by the police.
Ethnic Albanian guerrillas were involved in a brief conflict with Macedonian government troops in 2001 and their leaders formed the DUI after the insurgent force was disbanded.
Ethnically-charged violence also erupted this month in Skopje after the appointment of a former guerrilla, Talat Xhaferi, as the country's defence minister.