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Wednesday, 25 July, 2001, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Macedonian neighbours split by unrest
The skeleton of a house in Aracinovo
Coexistence, like the buildings, appears to have been destroyed
By Paul Adams in Aracinovo

Aracinovo is a ghost town, a place of shattered buildings where dogs, pigs and goats roam the empty streets, where a handful of the town's original 15,000 inhabitants live amid the ruins left by June's fighting.

Albanian rebels were in the town, a short distance from the capital, for two weeks before the Macedonian army tried, clumsily, to blast them out.

The fighting, so close to Skopje, seemed to herald the start of all-out war.

Eventually, the rebels were escorted from Aracinovo by Nato, much to the disgust and anger of Macedonians.

The allies are accused of siding with the rebels and participating in the break-up of this tiny country of two million.

Now, a troop of bored policemen keeps vigil among the broken glass and gutted shops.

Their commander told me that even before the rebels arrived, Aracinovo had a reputation as a den of drug smugglers and prostitutes.

Neighbours

I found Kruna Pavlova, one of the very few Macedonians left, watching nervously from the door of her tiny two-room home.

Her Macedonian friend, Marionka, keeps her company, but Kruna feels isolated and fearful.

"Life with them is very difficult," she says of her Albanian neighbours. "They look at us strangely."

Her voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper, Kruna says it is only a matter of time before Aracinovo suffers another upheaval.

Kruna Pavlova
Mrs Pavlova: They want us to move, so that only Albanians are left
"They want us to move from Aracinovo," she says. "So that only Albanians are left here. So this becomes an Albanian state."

During the bombardment, Kruna was sheltered by her Albanian neighbour, Emin Shaheen.

Emin showed me the makeshift bunker, where 16 people cowered for three days and nights.

"We realised that they [the Macedonian army] wanted to destroy us all," he said.

"I agreed that Kruna could stay because her brother asked me to take care of her and, anyway, it's our tradition."

Mistrust

But relations, perhaps never very good in the first place, have soured since the fighting stopped.

Kruna says Emin's four sons are all off fighting with the rebels.

She also believes that Emin's wife is baking bread for the NLA.

Emin Shaheen
Emin Shaheen: Fed up with the accusations
To cap it all, she fears her neighbour has his eye on her small plot of land.

Emin says he is fed up with the accusations and says that if the fighting starts again, he will not be so generous.

"I won't let Kruna anywhere near my home," he complains bitterly. "I gave her shelter and food and she spied on me."

Ceasefire collapsing

Macedonia's continued instability makes matters worse, fuelling fears and suspicion on both sides.

The peace talks drag on, accompanied by hysterical and often wildly inaccurate reporting by the local media.

A soldier pointing a rocket
Sustained exchange of fire shatters the sense of uneasy calm
And right across northern and western Macedonia, a ceasefire agreed two-and-a-half weeks ago is starting to unravel.

Sustained exchanges of gunfire on Monday and Tuesday have shattered the sense of uneasy calm around Tetovo.

Last week, in the hills above Tetovo, NLA guerrillas looked relaxed but watchful.

Planning for war

At the village of Sipkovice, a fighter who called himself Gini said the ceasefire depended on the Macedonian government.

"We're staying cool but they're planning for war," he said.

"But if they continue, we'll respond for sure."

If fighting does break out again, Kruna Pavlova will feel compelled to leave her home in Aracinovo, even though that means abandoning the grave of her husband, Jove.

The tombstone was damaged by the Macedonian bombardment in June. Kruna says it is one of her very few reasons for staying in this sorry town.

Before June, Macedonians and Albanians lived together in Aracinovo - not always easily, but without fighting.

Now it is not just the buildings that have been shattered. All vestiges of coexistence appear to have been wrecked too.


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