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News 15 May 15

Ahmeti Tried to Negotiate End to Macedonian Carnage

Macedonian Albanian leader Ali Ahmeti reveals he maintained telephone contact with the Kumanovo gunmen who shot dead eight police last weekend, trying to convince them to surrender.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

DUI leader, Ali Ahmeti | Photo by: DUI

Ahmeti, head of the junior party in the coalition government, said he found out about the police action as soon as it started, at 5am last Saturday - and that one of the gunmen who were by then surrounded by police called him, urging him to help negotiate a retreat from Kumanovo.

In an interview for Alsat M TV Ahmeti, head of the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, said he told the group to surrender.

"I did what I had to do. I persuaded them to surrender, because otherwise it was not going to be good for anyone," Ahmeti said.

Eight police officers were killed and 37 wounded in a two-day-long shootout with a group of about 40 gunmen in the ethnically mixed northern town of Kumanovo.

The gun battle shocked local residents and brought back memories of the armed conflict in Macedonia between Albanian insurgents and security forces in 2001.

The battle ended with the surrender of 30 of the gunmen. Police initially said they killed 14 of the gunmen, but later corrected that number to 10.

Ahmeti, who in 2001 lead the insurgents of the National Liberation Army, NLA, and later formed the DUI party, said that he immediately informed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE and the Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, about his efforts.

He said that Gruevski did not believe the gunmen would surrender.

Ahmeti said he had some information about why the armed group was in Kumanovo that day but was not going to reveal it until he felt sure of the complete truth.

The Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloksa, who resigned two days after the police action, said the group comprised trained and well armed terrorists whose goal was attacking state and civilian targets in order to destabilize the country.

Both Jankuloska and Gruevski initially insisted that the police action in Kumanovo was a success.

Media reports say last night passed off peacefully in the town, but that the lack of information was creating more fears among traumatized local residents.

The shootout took place against a backdrop of political crisis, revolving around opposition claims that Prime Minister Gruevski orchestrated the illegal surveillance of over 20,000 people.

Gruevski has insisted that "foreign secret services" were working in collaboration with the opposition to destabilise the country.

The Social Democrats started releasing their secretly recorded tapes of official conversations in February.

They say the tapes confirm their allegations about government misuse of power, including electoral theft, interference in the judiciary and media, fixing tenders, racketeering and framing political opponents. They say the tapes prove the government also covered up the murder of a young man by a police officer.

The opposition Social Democrats - who doubt the official version of events in Kumanovo - also say they will not cancel an anti-government rally scheduled for this Sunday. They said they will do everything to ensure a peaceful protest and prevent provocateurs from stirring up violence.

Amid mounting protests in the capital, the ruling VMRO DPMNE party has scheduled a counter-rally for Monday, increasing fears of possible street violence.

On Wednesday, leaders of all main political parties, with the mediation of EU ambassador Jess Baily and EU ambassador Aivo Orav, signed a declaration on non-violence and agreed to meet again on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights said that more than 40 protesters, including students have been arrested - and that 14 are still in detention.

The committee accused the police of detaining people in order to scare others from attending anti-government protests.

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