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News 14 Apr 16

Police Ministry Splits 'Threaten Macedonia's Security'

Power stuggles inside the Macedonian Interior Ministry have undermined the police's ability to focus on their tasks and jeopardised national security, experts and police say.

Meri Jordanovska, Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Macedonian police officers | Photo by: mvr.gov.mk

Experts and police employees say a damaging rift inside the Interior Ministry poses a threat to the work of the police and to the country's security.

Hundreds of police find themselves caught by politically motivated bickering between the outgoing Interior Minister, Oliver Spasovski, who comes from the opposition, and his deputy, Mitko Cavkov, who comes from the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party.

After Spasovski, along with other opposition ministers, resigned last Wednesday in protest against the unilateral move of the ruling parties to dissolve parliament ahead of the June 5 elections, the government annulled all decisions Spasovski made during his five months in office, including important staffing changes and reassignments.

The annulment of Spasovski's decisions, including his personnel changes, came into force on Tuesday when it was published in the official gazette.

"I did not know where to go to work, at my new post or the old one. I went to the new post but for tomorrow I don't know. The atmosphere at work is bad - we are divided into groups," a police employee told BIRN under condition of anonymity.

Police say the chaos in their department will negatively reflect on their ability to deal with serious security threats, such as the refugee crisis and the recent clashes with refugees on the southern border with Greece.

"Instead of concentrating on our jobs we don't know where we are working. Some of us are [ruling] party sympathizers - and it turns out that this is much more important than the security of the country," a member of the police's Alfa crime-fighting unit told BIRN, also not revealing his name.

Spasovski was appointed in November under the EU-brokered crisis agreement that foresaw several urgent reforms being undertaken before the country goes into early elections.

Former Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov told BIRN that a damaging system of "parallel" authority had been introduced into the work of the Interior Ministry, "which has had double leadership, both from Minister Spasovski and his deputy, Cavkov.

"This can lead to chaos that would endanger the country's security. This institution operates under a strict hierarchy - but this is not the case when you have double leadership," Trajanov added.

Trajanov said the Constitutional Court as well as Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov must intervene and heal the rift inside the ministry.

Ruling party officials deny there is a problem, however. “The Interior Ministry functions flawlessly,” deputy Interior Minister Mitko Cavkov said on Tuesday, referring to the police operation to protect the border from migrants on Sunday.

Macedonian security forces faced a serious challenge on Sunday when thousands of refugees in northern Greece tried to forcibly enter the country.

The clashes resulted in 23 police and army officers being injured. Around 300 refugees who were forced back on Greek soil were also injured.

Tensions there are still high and on Wednesday another group of refugees tried to destroy the fence but were again repelled by the police firing tear gas and shock grenades.

The rift in the police comes amid a deep crisis that revolves around opposition claims that the government is responsible for the illegal wiretapping of over 20,000 people and other crimes.

Nikola Gruevski - who has held power since 2006 but who resigned as Prime Minister last month under the terms of the EU accord - says the wiretapping tapes released by the opposition were “fabricated” by unnamed foreign intelligence services and given to the opposition to destabilise the country.

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