Macedonia On War Footing
Over Kosovo Border Provocations
SKOPJE Escalating conditions at the Tanusevci- Debalde border with Kosovo have prompted the Macedonian Army to prepare for war on Thursday, reported Skopje's Dnevnik. The two villages, situated only 100 meters apart on opposite sides of a steep mountain, have long been hotbeds of Albanian extremism. The NLA kicked off its war against Macedonia in January 2001 in Tanusevci, when Albanian fighters used shoulder-fired rockets to destroy a Macedonian police station. Tanusevci and Debalde are still strewn with unexploded land mines planted by the NLA during last year's conflict.
On Wednesday, the Macedonian Army assumed 24-hour combat positions, which it claims are necessary to secure the border. President Trajkovski on Wednesday conferred with UNMIK administrator Michael Steiner and KFOR commander General Marcel Valentin, the newspaper also reported. The UN administration declared that it would not allow Kosovar extremists to enter Macedonia. This promise will be hard to keep, considering the region's wooded, mountainous terrain.
The recent escalation has followed widespread protests in the Kosovo village of Vitina. There, 600 Albanians demonstrated in the streets on Wednesday, according to Irina Gelevska for Reality Macedonia. Vitina is only 12 KM from the Macedonian border. While Albanian daily Fakti claimed the border issue is merely "the apple of discord" between Macedonians and Albanians, there are signs that the recent tensions could have the makings of much more.
The border issue has been inflamed, sources in Skopje say, by the recent firing of several Kosovo Protection Corp officers connected with KLA terrorism. While Kosovo's Western administration has been criticized for putting terrorists and criminals into high positions of power, it has lately started to crack down on such unsavory characters. Some of these disgruntled ex-officers are now infiltrating Macedonia, where they are planning to start a new round of fighting.
These armed extremists from Kosovo are allegedly crossing the border in small groups, and trying to find "safe houses" in Tanusevci and Laojane, another Macedonian border town. Quoting intelligence sources, Dnevnik claims that the ex-KPC terrorists "…are trying to test the mood of the people for starting new war provocations, and for controlling smuggling routes." Vlado Popovski, Minister of Defense, confirmed this information in a statement made to the Macedonian Information Agency on Wednesday.
The border argument came out of nowhere in February, when Kosovar peasants complained that the border demarcation, agreed a year ago in an internationally-respected treaty, cut them off from their fields. The situation was exacerbated by an American, Brigadier General Keith Huber, who declared the Skopje-Belgrade border agreement "illegal." NATO retracted Huber's statement, however, amid a firestorm of protests from the Macedonians. Yet the show of support from the Kosovars' former allies in the West encouraged them to keep up their complaints.
The "illegal" border has also been used as a reason for war by the Albanian National Army (ANA), an extremist offshoot of the NLA. This group has used the issue to defend its fight for "a war of total conquest" against the "Slavs," even though Albanian negotiators had largely been satisfied with the generous concessions made last summer in the Treaty of Ochrid. Although the Albanians have consistently claimed to be fighting for human rights and not territory, the latest 0provocations indicate that dreams of a "Greater Albania" or "Greater Kosovo" are not entirely extinguished.
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
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 the 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 the ethnography of Byzantine Georgia.
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