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Friday, 26 January, 2001, 22:42 GMT
Albanian militia claims Macedonian attack
Kosovo Liberation Army fighters
KLA veterans form the backbone of the new group
By the BBC's Balkans reporter Paul Wood

A previously unknown ethnic Albanian group calling itself the National Liberation Army has claimed responsibility for a mortar attack on a police station in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

One officer was killed in the attack, and three others wounded.

It appears that this new organisation is made up of former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and that they are planning a Kosovo-style guerilla war campaign in Macedonia.

Even before the official formation of the NLA, its members showed their ability to carry out operations against Macedonia.

Ethnic Albanians make up between a quarter and a third of Macedonia's population. Slavs of the Orthodox religious faith are in the majority.

In its statement, the National Liberation Army said the uniform of the Macedonian occupier would be targeted until the Albanian people were free.

Special forces

Many of the group's leaders were members of the part of the KLA designated as its special forces and are as experienced as any of those who fought in Kosovo against Serbian forces.

Even before the official formation of the NLA, its members showed their ability to carry out operations against Macedonia.

An NLA-organised kidnapping almost brought down the Macedonian government

In April last year, they kidnapped four Macedonian soldiers and demanded that the government free one of their leaders from jail in Skopje.

His release precipitated a crisis which nearly resulted in the government falling.

As was the case in Kosovo, Albanians in Macedonia who favour a military campaign are in a tiny minority.

The ethnic Albanian political leadership there is extremely disciplined and is focusing its efforts on changing the constitution to gain more autonomy.

Birth rate

But some Macedonians fear the Albanians are simply biding their time.

With the higher birth rate among ethnic Albanians, goes this line of thinking, they believe they may be able to gain much more territory if they delay their independence struggle until the next generation.

But a low intensity guerrilla campaign has much less chance of success in Macedonia than it did in Kosovo, because ethnic Albanians are in a minority and concentrated in the west.

By contrast, the Serbian province was 90% ethnic Albanian and Serbian security forces could not hope to maintain control over large swathes of territory.

The danger is that Macedonia's much more complex ethnic mix and troubled history could lead to a general Balkan war, as it did twice in the last century.

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22 Jan 01 | Europe
Macedonian police station attack
27 Nov 00 | Europe
Guerrillas threaten fragile peace
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