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Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 23:57 GMT 00:57 UK
Analysis: Stirrings of war?
Macedonian army patrol
Macedonian army patrol heads for the troubled border
By BBC Balkans correspondent Paul Wood

Smiling disconcertingly, Jakup told me that the Macedonian police had beaten and interrogated him for 52 hours without a break.

He was smiling, he explained, because he was coming to his favourite part of the story: "I told the policeman, 'I will remember your face and someday, you can be sure, we will meet again.'"

Albanian refugees
Ethnic Albanian refugees fled from Macedonia to Kosovo
We were talking in a safe house in Kosovo for the National Liberation Army (NLA).

This new ethnic Albanian group say most of their members are citizens of Macedonia but also veterans of the Kosovo conflict, having volunteered to fight in the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Gun battle

They say they are unable to return to their homes in Macedonia, fearful of police raids connected with their activities, so they are biding their time in Kosovo, occasionally slipping across the border with their weapons.

The Macedonian security forces try to intercept them - that is apparently how a recent two-hour gun battle began in the village of Tanusevci began.

The uniform of the Macedonian occupier would be targeted until the Albanian people were free

NLA statement
Although in Macedonia, the village supplied many ethnic Albanian volunteers to fight in the war in Kosovo. It is today a centre for those sympathetic to the NLA.

Macedonia has, so far, escaped the civil war which marked the break up of the old Yugoslav federation. Western diplomats in Skopje say they now expect sporadic clashes rather than all-out conflict.

But the Macedonian Government is warning the international community not to underestimate the danger that escalating violence could destabilise the whole region.

Spreading conflict

The Macedonians say ethnic Albanian fighters in the Presevo valley in southern Serbia are trying to spread the conflict across the border into Macedonia.

Macedonian officials say this is a deliberate strategy of the group fighting in Presevo, the UC-PBM.

K-For soldiers
K-For soldiers in Kosovo
The reality may be far more disturbing for the Macedonian authorities - that this is a largely home-grown group, not one importing violence from Kosovo.

The NLA has shown itself capable of carrying out operations inside Macedonia - doing far more than just crossing the border illegally.

In January, the group claimed responsibility for a mortar attack on a Macedonian police station which killed one officer and wounded three others.

The attack on the police station in western Macedonia was intended by those involved to be the opening shots in a Kosovo-style guerrilla campaign.

A statement from the NLA said the "uniform of the Macedonian occupier would be targeted until the Albanian people were free".

Bitter Albanians rivals

There are, in fact, two Albanian groups recruiting people for an armed struggle in Macedonia.

The first is the National Liberation Army, the second is the Albanian National Army (or Armata Kometare Shqipetare in Albanian) from which less has been heard.

The two groups are bitter rivals.

There is no evidence that either of these two Macedonian groups are part of the same military command as the groups fighting in Presevo, or even that they are co-ordinating their actions in order to bring the Presevo conflict into Macedonia.

But they do have close links and the same aim, which is to see all Albanians living in the same state stretching from southern Serbia, through Macedonia, to Albania itself.

Different to Kosovo

A low intensity guerrilla campaign in Macedonia would be much different to that waged in Kosovo.

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

In Macedonia, ethnic Albanians are no more than a third of the population and are concentrated in the west.

The international community has also made clear its opposition to any separatist campaign in Macedonia.

Nevertheless, the NLA plans to step up its activities: it is a dangerous situation for a country with such a complex ethnic mix and troubled history and which was the cause of two Balkan wars in the last century.

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See also:

23 Feb 01 | Europe
South Serbia alarm divides summit
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Albania
02 Feb 01 | Europe
Presevo valley tension
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