Feature 10 May 16

Macedonia’s Kumanovo Shootout Still Raising Suspicions

A year after 18 people died in fighting between Albanian gunmen and Macedonian police in Kumanovo, locals still believe that the reasons for the violence are being suppressed.

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Kumanovo
New houses at the place of the shootout | Photo by: Fatjona Mejdini

Albanians in the ethnically-mixed Macedonian town of Kumanovo started to call the part of the town in which most of them live the ‘Neighbourhood of the Bravest’ in the early 1990s.

Nobody in the neighbourhood remembers exactly who called it that, but they know why.

Situated in the north-east of Macedonia, fewer than 20 kilometres from the border with Kosovo, with 20,000 ethnic Albanians making up almost half of its population, Kumanovo has been close to conflict zones for two decades.

During the 2001 conflict between Albanian insurgents and Macedonian security forces, war raged in the neighbouring municipality of Lipkovo, while bombs exploded in the middle of Kumanovo as well.

Albanians in the town are proud to tell visitors that "brave men from Kumanovo" have fought for the Albanian cause wherever they were needed, and many of them have lost their lives.

But a year ago, the fighting came to the heart of the ‘Neighborhood of the Bravest’ during two days of violence in which 10 Albanian gunmen and eight policemen were killed.

The Macedonian government said that the Albanian gunmen, nine of whom came from Kosovo and one from Skopje, were terrorists who attacked the police in an attempt to create ethnic turmoil.

But Albanians in Macedonia, as well as the country’s opposition parties, suspect that the two-day shoot-out last May was a set-up, staged to divert public attention from the country's growing political turmoil after the leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Zoran Zaev started to publish details of incriminating wiretapped conversations between high-ranking state officials.

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