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Saturday, 28 July, 2001, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
Macedonia's torn ethnic fabric
Macedonian women shows damaged house
Macedonians accuse Albanian militants of looting
By Nicholas Wood in Neprosteno, Macedonia

There are concerns in Macedonia that months of conflict have done irreversible damage to the country's inter-ethnic relations.

Both local inhabitants and humanitarian observers say that in areas particularly affected by fighting the two communities may be unable to live with each other again.

They told me to leave or they would burn the house down

Macedonian villager
Until last weekend, Neprosteno was home to 500 ethnic Macedonians, now there are barely 30 left.

Most fled ahead of fighting that engulfed the village last Monday, and are unlikely to return very soon.

The village lies three miles to the west of Tetovo and is ethnically mixed.

Neighbours had lived side by side here for years without any problem, but as ethnic Albanian gunmen advanced into the area, the community was torn apart.

Some took up arms against each other, others gave each other shelter.


Borivoj Georgievski found himself trapped in his house when the fighting started.

Pero Atanasovski and his daughter, displaced from their village
Most Macedonians have fled and are unlikely to return
The former truck driver hid with his wife in a downstairs room, but soon three Albanian gunmen, one of them his neighbour, came to the door.

"They told me to leave or they would burn the house down," he said.

Along with as many as 50 other ethnic Macedonians, Borivoj was kept at a neighbour's house, where he said he was well looked after.

"They were treating me nice, with tea, coffee, everything."

The Macedonian villagers had been rounded up on the orders of the local NLA commander.


When the fighting ended and they returned, the Georgievskis found their houses looted.

As Borivoj spoke, his Albanian neighbours looked on.

One accused him of keeping five machine guns in his house.

Once inside his house and away from his neighbours, the former truck driver broke down in tears.

"I don't know what to say to anyone any more," he sighed. "I'm afraid."

As evening fell, Borivoj was among 16 Macedonians to leave Neprosteno in a convoy organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross. He said he would return.

No return

In the centre of the village, young Albanian men who, by their own admission, were wearing NLA uniforms a few days ago said they knew the village was changed for ever.

It's easier when the violence is perpetrated by unidentified strangers... but if they know each other beforehand it is almost impossible

Sally Broughton, Search for Common Ground
Twenty-five-year-old Lirim said only those who did not fight would be allowed to return.

"Those who were not involved in the conflict (can return), and we have the names of those who were involved in the conflict.

"I am not forbidding them from coming back, but speaking as a human being I don't see how they could have the conscience to come back."

In the local village café, the village's Albanian inhabitants were keen to stress how they had helped some of their neighbours.

"We're sorry, you could have arrived earlier and seen how well the Macedonians were looked after in their houses, said Xhevahir Sadiku, a member of the local municipal board.

"People who stayed here were taken by the NLA, and put in a safe place.

"Their animals were also taken, and now we have given them back."

Communities' strife

Whatever their intentions, humanitarian observers say it could be many years before Neprosteno's two communities can live at ease with each other.

Red Cross aid
The Red Cross has been helping refugees
"It's very difficult to return to normal life once that level of trust has been broken," said Sally Broughton, deputy director of the Search for Common Ground, an NGO working in Macedonia.

"It's easier when the violence is perpetrated by unidentified strangers. But if they know each other beforehand it is almost impossible. That's our experience from working for two years in Kosovo."

That is the same conclusion drawn by the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR.


Its special representative in the Balkans warned earlier this week that, while ethnic cleansing may not have been the intention of either side during this conflict, the effects could be the same.

"If a community believes it was forcibly expelled, enormous barriers will be created for any eventual return," said Eric Morris.

Key stories



See also:

28 Jul 01 | Europe
Macedonia talks back on track
14 Aug 01 | Europe
Tetovo calm after fighting
26 Jul 01 | Europe
Macedonians target the West
20 Jul 01 | Europe
EU team killed in Macedonia
19 Jul 01 | Europe
Row over Macedonia peace plan
19 Jul 01 | Europe
Analysis: Macedonia talks setback
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