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Monday, 28 May, 2001, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
The Albanian fund-raising machine
Albanian guerrilla
Swiss Albanians are believed to fund the Macedonian uprising
By Claire Doole in Geneva

The three soberly-dressed Albanians were being over-modest.

In a rare public appearance, they told the Geneva press corps they were "representatives of the Macedonian community in Switzerland".

In fact we were in the presence of some of the key political and financial backers of the ethnic Albanian rebels fighting for greater rights for Macedonia's large Albanian minority.

Fazli Veliu is a 55-year-old Albanian who has lived in the German-speaking part of Switzerland for the past 20 years.

He describes himself as a "manual worker", although he is referred to in the Swiss and German newspapers as a journalist and writer.

Vakcince refugees
Swiss Albanians say the money is for food and medicine for displaced people
What is certain is that he is a key figure in the Albanian diaspora living in Switzerland.

He is a founding member of the Kosovo Liberation Army and the current president of the People's Movement of Kosovo abroad.

This movement has helped channel money from Albanians world-wide to the rebels of the Kosovo Liberation Army for their fight against the Serbs.

And now it appears they are bankrolling the Albanian cause in Macedonia.

Unknown sums

The head of fund-raising for the National Liberation Army, Vaxhid Sedjiu, does not dispute the Albanian community in Switzerland is raising funds.

"We have to collect money for food and medicines," he says.

"The Macedonian Government is not helping villagers whose homes have been razed to the ground".

It is almost impossible to prove that the money raised is being used to fund illegal arms sales to the rebels in Macedonia

Swiss police spokeswoman Daniele Bersier
But putting a figure on the amount of money raised is more difficult.

"The Swiss cantonal system means it is impossible to say precisely how much overall we have collected," he says.

He refused to say whether donations added up to thousands or tens of thousands of Swiss francs.

Fundraising power

But close observers of the Albanian community have been doing the maths.

KLA soldiers
Albanian accounts supporting the Kosovo Liberation Army were closed
Nefail Maliqi, correspondent for the Swiss-based Albanian newspaper, Bota Sot, says around 40,000 Swiss francs ($22,000) were raised during a two hour rally in front of the UN buildings in March.

His paper places regular adverts for fund-raising parties and more than a dozen are held each weekend.

With 200,000 Albanians living in Switzerland - 45,000 of them from Macedonia - that adds up to a lot of financial backing.

Arms trafficking

According to Mr Maliqi, the Albanian community has learnt its lesson from similar fund-raising initiatives during the Kosovo conflict.

The Swiss authorities blocked a number of bank accounts, suspecting they were being used to finance illicit arms trafficking.

The Albanians have become more "vigilant", says Mr Maliqi.

"They either don't want to embarrass their Swiss hosts or they don't want to run the risk of a cash flow problem".

The brutality shown by the Macedonian government is unacceptable and in breach of UN conventions

Musa Xhaferi National Liberation Army
This time round they are not publishing bank account numbers in the local papers, nor is there a so called voluntary 3% tax, levied on the Albanian diaspora during the Kosovo conflict.

Instead donations, collected "privately and spontaneously" are taken to Kosovo and Macedonia by personal couriers.

It is an offence in Switzerland to collect money to buy weapons.

But Daniele Bersier, spokeswoman at the Swiss police department, says "it is almost impossible to prove that the money raised is being used to fund illegal arms sales to the rebels in Macedonia".

Since the ethnic Albanian rebels locked arms with the Macedonian army in February, the Swiss have taken no action against those collecting money in Switzerland.

Government line

Switzerland, like other western governments, sees the ethnic Albanians as terrorists, and their insurgency as unjustified.

The ethnic Albanians wanting greater rights in Macedonia are not receiving the international support their brothers received during the Kosovo conflict.

"The brutality shown by the Macedonian government is unacceptable and in breach of UN conventions," complains Musa Xhaferi, the overseas representative of the National Liberation Army.

It is an opinion which strikes a chord with the massive Albanian diaspora in Switzerland.

But it is not a view shared by the government or the UN.

The BBC's Jonathan Charles reports
"Heavy casualties on either side would only fuel the tension"
Georgi Trendafilov
is a Macedonian forces spokesman

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See also:

25 May 01 | Europe
Macedonian army pounds rebels
10 Mar 98 | Monitoring
Serbia's neighbours voice concern
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