Legacy of War: Kidnapped Persons in Macedonia
Skopje, Macedonia On a cold winter's night in the parliament building in Skopje, I have come to speak with some of the truly innocent victims of war. They have been here since 21 December, the relatives of Macedonians kidnapped by the NLA during 2001. In shifts, they silently protest their government's and the international community's lack of progress in the search for their loved ones. The faces of the three men who agreed to speak with me show their ongoing pain. Mostly, they look numb, and there is no doubting the reasons for their complaints of depression and sleeplessness. One man's son, another's father, another's brother-in-law. All of them were taken, not as prisoners of war, but while they were working or relaxing in their homes.
A wave of NLA kidnappings took place over the summer in the villages of Neproshtino, Japciste, Dobrishte, Drenovic and Belovishte. All of these villages are situated in the lawless western region of the country, between Tetovo and the uncontrollable border with Kosovo. While scores of Macedonians were abducted up to 52 in one day, in Neproshtino many were later released. The fate of these 12 prisoners, however, is unknown.
Between 8 June and 26 July, ten Macedonian villagers were kidnapped. Many of these were kidnapped after the announcing of a ceasefire on 5 July. The last two were taken on 31 August, well after the signing of the Framework Document on 13 August. Six of the victims were between the ages of 25-30, and another six were elderly people, between 50-70 years old.
There was no pretext or warning for the kidnappings, and the NLA demanded no ransom. The victims simply vanished. Some were taken from their fields where they worked; some were taken from their own houses. All were unarmed, and well-known to the local Albanians. Witnesses recognized some of the abductors as local Albanians, dressed in black with the NLA emblem emblazoned on their uniforms.
One man related to me one particularly sad kidnapping. It was of a young man and woman who had been married for just one day when they were taken. They were kept together for one day, and then separated. After three days the young woman was released, but her husband was not. He remains a captive of the NLA. There would be no honeymoon for that couple.
Surprisingly, out of the twelve kidnapped persons is one American citizen, 52-year-old Boshko Dimitrievski from the village of Belovishte. He came to Macedonia several years ago from the US, in order to take care of his mentally-disabled brother. Both of them were kidnapped at the same time. I was surprised, I told them, that the US embassy had not done anything about this. My interlocutors just shrugged. Apparently negotiations failed.
Indeed, the hopelessness of the men I spoke with stems from the lack of results they have gotten from the state and international authorities. While assurances are periodically made, it has now been almost six months since the kidnappings, and there is no sign of any progress. Said one of the men,
"from the first moment, the Red Cross was informed, and the OSCE, and the European monitors. And they said 'we're making an investigation,' but they're not making any results they only ask me if I know where they are."
I asked them if they believe their relatives are still alive. The men believed that they are: "our information on the ground is suggesting that all twelve are alive and that they (the NLA) are waiting for the right moment to release them." They told me what they meant by this "right time." They believe that the NLA is not releasing their prisoners so as to have a bargaining chip, should war start up again in the Spring. But the families of the kidnapped are getting fed-up. Said one man,
"We have seen that there are no results, and that our state cannot help, for the well-known reason that they have no access (to the NLA-held villages). We're saying to them quite openly, we will stay here for some days, and after we will have to take our protests to the offices where the EU presence is."
I asked them if they had any message for the outside world, regarding their situation. They were glad, they said, to make a statement first of all, to reiterate that none of the kidnapped persons had been captured during combat. They also wanted to express their frustration at the lack of media coverage of their plight, and the continuing intimidation they felt. Said the youngest man, "every day I'm searching for some information about my father, up and down the road to Tetovo and as I pass they (the Albanians) are cursing me." To this, an older man added, "if it had been twelve Albanians kidnapped in this way, there would have been every day protests and even military actions." The others nodded in agreement. "But we we are protesting peacefully, in the Macedonian way."
Christopher Deliso is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master's degree with honors in Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia issue, the Cyprus problem, and ethnography of Byzantine Georgia.
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