news 15 Feb 17

Macedonia Shootout Defendants to Testify in Court

The testimonies of the ethnic Albanian defendants accused of participating in a two-day shootout with Macedonian security forces in Kumanovo in 2015 are expected to shed new light on the high-profile case.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
The aftermath of the fighting in Kumanovo in 2015. Photo: AP/Visar Kryeziu

Lawyers for 37 ethnic Albanian defendants accused of participating in the shootout with police that left 18 people dead in the northern town of Kumanovo in May 2015 said that their testimonies, scheduled for Friday, could lead to requests for Macedonian politicians to take the stand as witnesses.

Naser Raufi, one of the defence lawyers for the men who are charged with terrorism, said that “who exactly would be summoned will depend on the testimonies of the defendants”.

This is not the first time that the defence has suggested summoning politicians as witnesses in hope of shedding new light on the case.

In October last year, the defence said it wanted a retired police general who is now head of the small opposition Dignity party, Stojance Angelov, and the head of the junior party in the country’s ruling coalition, Democratic Union for Integration chief Ali Ahmeti, to appear as witnesses.

But the law prohibits calling additional witnesses in the middle of the trial, unless they are mentioned in other people’s testimonies as potentially relevant to the case, which is expected to be the case when the defendants take the stand on Friday.

Former police general Angelov told BIRN in October that he is probably being asked to testify because of a statement which he made just two weeks before the shootout in which he practically predicted the incident.

He had said that the government might stage an incident in order to provoke inter-ethnic conflict and thus divert attention from anti-government protests which were in full swing at the time.

“I have information that two million euros were given to the Albanians, who have nothing to do with the NLA [the now-disbanded Albanian guerrilla force which fought in the 2001 armed conflict in Macedonia] and who are criminals from the Lipkovo region [near Kumanovo],” Angelov told BIRN.

“Their task was to kill several police or army staff and to provoke inter-ethnic conflict, falsely pretending to be NLA members,” he alleged.

This is in line with some of the claims made by the defence, which has suggested that the entire incident was staged by high-ranking police officials, although they have no further details about the alleged plot.

Media have meanwhile speculated that Ahmeti on the other hand might be summoned because he openly admitted being contacted by some of the gunmen during the shootout, to ask for assistance in resolving the matter, he claimed.

The trial in the high-profile case started in February 2016.

But at the beginning of June last year, the trial had to restart after the prosecution decided to merge the case with another related case in which eight people are suspected of helping the armed group.

The defence lawyers have complained that they, and their clients, have not had sufficient access to the prosecution’s evidence, so they could not prepare an adequate defence.

The prosecution alleges that the men stole weapons from a police station, which they used for the attack on the security forces in Kumanovo on May 9 and 10, 2015.

The defendants deny the charges and insist that the two-day shootout was a result of them defending themselves from the police.

Kumanovo was one of the towns at the centre of the 2001 armed conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents and Macedonian security forces.

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