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News 26 Apr 17

‘Martial Law’ Rumour Fuels Unease in Macedonia

The new manager of an old Yugoslav military complex denied allegations that the authorities are preparing a bunker to serve as command post for declaring martial law in the country.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
The Macedonian parliament. Photo: MIA

Oliver Andonov, the new manager of the remote Jasen military complex, a site which includes a derelict former Yugoslav army bunker, denied media allegations that the authorities were preparing the site to use after declaring martial law to prevent the opposition forming a government.

"I deny all allegations that something is being prepared there in relation to some kind of coup," Andonov told Telma TV on Tuesday.

Fears that violence could be used to prevent an opposition-led government and maintain the right wing VMRO DPMNE and its leader Nikola Gruevski’s hold on power increased after the Fokus weekly at the weekend cited unnamed army, police and counter-intelligence sources as saying that the Jasen complex near Skopje is being prepared to serve as a shelter and a command post.

The report alleged that the complex is to serve President Gjorge Ivanov and Gruevski as a "command post for detaining coup plotters" in case the new parliamentary majority led by the Social Democrats, SDSM, overcomes the current institutional blockade imposed by the VMRO DPMNE and manages to elect a new parliamentary speaker and establish a new government.

"The scenario witnessed by army, police and counter intelligence sources would be put into effect if the SDSM and the [ethnic] Albanian parties, who control a majority of 69 MPs [in the 120-seat parliament], decide to end the parliament blockade and elect a new speaker and a government at an alternative [parliamentary] session without the VMRO DPMNE,” claimed the Fokus report.

“This would be used by President Ivanov as a pretext for declaring a state of emergency,” it alleged.

Ivanov's office declined to make any comment to BIRN on Monday or Tuesday about the allegations that the complex is being prepared to accommodate the president in such a scenario.

But the appointment of Andonov, a former provisional Interior Minister who is seen as close to the leadership of the right-wing VMRO DPMNE party, as the new manager of Jasen, has only fuelled such fears.

Commenting on the media reports, security expert and former army spokesperson Blagoja Markovski warned that the armed forces are legally prohibited from being used against Macedonian citizens.

"Macedonia's president cannot use the army against citizens," Markovski said, adding that this would be against the Law on Military Service.

He added that the army has the right to disobey orders from its supreme commander, President Ivanov, if they are unlawful.

The bunker at Jasen, built after WWII and designed to accommodate some 100 people in case of war, was a top military secret during Socialist Yugoslavia.

The complex, which is situated amid a vast mountainous forest area some 20 kilometres south-west of Skopje, was first opened to the public in the mid-2000s and has since then served as an elite resort and hunting ground with its military facilities left unused.

Markovski said he believes that the Jasen bunker complex is now practically in ruins. However, he said that the bunker can be put in function in a relatively short time, but only with a massive investment in revamp and modern equipment.

"At this moment Jasen is defunct as a command post and can serve only as a shelter," he said, adding that the bunker complex would need a ground-up revamp including installation of new communications equipment in order to become functional once more.

Macedonia has not been able to elect a new government since December’s early polls.

The crisis deepened on March 1, when President Gjorge Ivanov, who was elected head of state as the VMRO DPMNE’s candidate, refused to grant SDSM leader Zoran Zaev the mandate to form a government, despite the opposition leader having secured a majority in parliament, insisting that would jeopardize the country's soveregnity.

The SDSM said the VMRO DPMNE was afraid to lose power because its leaders fear standing trial.

Several senior party figures, including VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski, are currently facing criminal investigations and indictments by the Special Prosecution, SJO, which they claim are politically motivated.

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