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Saturday, 17 March, 2001, 09:41 GMT
Tension in Tetovo
People catch train to go to Skopje
Many have already fled Tetovo amid fears of long war

By Seladin Xhezairi in Tetovo

The Tetovo castle is just over one kilometre from where I stand.

From my outpost, the shelling, explosions and pounding is clearly audible, even visible.

Is it a 'Greater Albania' you want? Then go to hell, all of you

Macedonian man
The fighting is in all directions - from the ground, from the outskirts of the city and from the hilltops overlooking it.

Tetovo trembles in agony, not so much because of the shelling as the uncertainty of the future. As my father puts it looking at the skies "God only knows what's been written for us".

When I met some friends over coffee - after a night of uninterrupted fighting - the shift of opinion was noticeable.

'This was inevitable'

"This had to happen. Ten years of political dialogue got us nowhere", says one of them.

His friend, who likens himself to a pacifist, sounds more like a Western politician as he asks rhetorically: "Are we likely to harm Kosovo's interests with this?"

Only war will henceforth make us equal

Old Albanian man
But a third interrupts quickly, barely hiding his admiration for "the boys", and suggesting he might join up, too. "Everyone goes to his after-life with his own sins," he says philosophically.

"Was this necessary at all?" asks one of my Macedonian friends.

"Not really, at least not in the way it is unfolding," I reply. "But something ought to have been done to redress the Albanians' demands."

Albanian demonstrators
Thousands of Macedonian Albanians support the rebels
"Is it a Greater Albania you want? Then go to hell, all of you," says another of my Macedonian friends pounding nervously against the wall where a map of the region hangs menacingly.

"Get lost, and good riddance," he adds. "We will build a great wall to divide us: we remain on the side of Europe, you - you can go wherever you want."

"Why can't I have my own name in my own language in my own passport?" I ask him. He cannot provide an answer.

Preparing for war

As a new driver, I rejoice at the luxury of little or no traffic in Tetovo today. Those few cars that pass by are full of people and things. They are fleeing.

In the villages around Tetovo, people have organised overnight guards. Now, in daylight, they are running around, trying to procure some foodstuffs, some flour, sugar, cooking oil, candles and perhaps a few batteries, too. They are preparing for a long war.

Heavy explosions threw me into a group of youths, watching the smoke of firepower around Tetovo's castle. Some cheer each time someone fires from above there.

In contrast, Macedonian state television broadcasts pictures of Macedonian women carrying ammunition packs and filling the magazines of automatic rifles.

"This is no good," says an elderly gentleman hearing news on Macedonian radio that Arben Xhaferri, the leader of the ethnic Albanian party that is a junior partner in the governing coalition, has met Prime Minister Ljupco Georgiesvski to discuss the crisis.

"Serves him right," the old man adds, referring to Xhaferri's pre-election pledges to fight for equal political, economic and linguistic rights for Macedonia's Albanians.

"He has abandoned us. Only war will henceforth make us equal," the old man said.

Ethnic Albanians and Macedonians in Tetovo, as elsewhere in Macedonia, do not agree on whether the men in the hills are freedom-fighters or terrorists.

Seladin Xhezairi is the BBC's Albanian section stringer in Tetovo

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See also:

17 Mar 01 | Europe
Macedonia fighting 'worst' so far
15 Mar 01 | Europe
In pictures: Macedonia rebellion
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