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Sunday, 18 March, 2001, 01:30 GMT
Fear in Macedonia
Ethnic Albanians
Thousands of Albanians demonstrated in support of the rebels
By Biljana Georgievska

The markets in Skopje are the places where Macedonians and ethnic Albanians meet regularly.

They talk little about politics, more about everyday life, so the conversation is always full of common issues.

People fleeing violence in Tetovo
Hundreds of families have fled
I was expecting that the proximity of the Tetovo shootings - only 40 km from the capital - would be an issue under discussion at Skopje's Bit pazar, the heart of that part of Skopje which is mainly populated by the ethnic Albanians.

But now, people don't seem to want to listen.

Divide

"The situation could be different in few days, if the fighting in Tetovo lasts longer" says a friend.

When the fighting started, it was a surprise for everybody here. But now, the people have slowly started to divide.

Civilians supply police with ammunition
Civilians have been helping supply police with ammunition
The ethnic Albanians have started to appreciate the fact that the extremists - after several weeks of attacks against the Macedonian police forces - demand more rights for the ethnic Albanian population.

And now the Macedonians do not know to whom should they express their anger for feeling betrayed.

Should they turn to the authorities who used to say that the ethnic tensions had relaxed, or should they blame themselves for their decisions to leave their homes in western Macedonia, decades ago, when they were saying that "they could not stand the Albanians"?

Fleeing violence

"We are fleeing our homes because we are not armed and the Albanians are," one Macedonian man form Tetovo told me on the outskirts of Skopje .

He has brought his whole family to Skopje, and now he can not speak about what is happening back there.

"I am too emotional", he says. "Our houses are burning."

Another one passes by in his car. I believe he wants to talk about his own problems.

But he angrily shouts: "It is your fault. It is the journalists' fault. Why don't you ask how we are, how we all are, not just the Albanians?"

Albanian rebels
The rebels have managed to slip through the net
The most frequently discussed issue among the Macedonian population these days is what kind of rights the ethnic Albanians are demanding.

Many people argue that since the independence of Macedonia, 10 years ago, one of the ethnic Albanian main parties has always been in the government.

Some Macedonians point out that the ethic Albanians in the country have their own MPs, their own mayors, and Albanian is the official language in all the municipalities with the majority of ethnic Albanian population.

"For the past seven to eight years they have been threatening the authorities with destabilising the country with the illegal university in Tetovo," says angrily one colleague of mine.

"Now, they do not want five universities, they want 15 - as if studying medicine in Albanian gives you a different kind of knowledge" he says.

Mistrust

Demonstrations in Macedonia
The rebels have the support of many Macedonian Albanians
My ethnic Albanian friends will admit that the Albanians in Macedonia are much better off and have better lives that those living in Kosovo or even in Albania.

But yet again, they have been feeling quite uncomfortable.

They argue that there was an institutional mistrust for years and insincerity even in everyday affairs.

For a long time many Albanians in Macedonia said that the rebels' aim was not the creation of a "Greater Albania".

But lately, they have prefer to remain silent.

Biljana Georgievska is the BBC's Macedonian section correspondent in Skopje

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See also:

17 Mar 01 | Europe
Macedonia battle rages on
17 Mar 01 | Europe
EU pledges support to Macedonia
15 Mar 01 | Europe
New Macedonia fighting erupts
15 Mar 01 | Europe
In pictures: Macedonia rebellion
17 Mar 01 | Europe
Tension in Tetovo
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