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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 19:42 GMT 20:42 UK
Macedonia rebels fear reprisals
Macedonian Special Forces soldier
Rebels have accused government troops of heavy-handedness
By south east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

As the Macedonian parliament continues its debate on a peace deal, preparations are getting under way for the ethnic Albanian guerrillas to hand over more of their weapons.

However ethnic Albanians are concerned that they will become more vulnerable to attacks by Macedonian special forces and paramilitaries, if the guerrillas surrender their weapons.


The NLA is expected to hide many of its other arms is because of its fear of reprisals from Macedonian special forces

In the centre of Skopje, a large electronic display invites young Macedonians to join the Tigers - as the special forces of the Interior Ministry are known.

Ethnic Albanians have blamed the Tigers for a number of heavy-handed assaults on Albanian-inhabited settlements.

One of these included the attack on the village of Tanusevci in February, which led to the conflict that has since pitted the ethnic Albanians' National Liberation Army (NLA) against the Macedonian security forces.

Handover

Last week the NLA began surrendering its weapons - part of a peace deal signed by politicians last month - which is expected to put an end to the six-month-old conflict.

Deposited NLA arms
The NLA is expected to hold on to many of its weapons

So far the NLA has handed over to Nato troops a little over one-third of the 3,300 weapons it has promised to surrender.

That figure of 3,300 weapons is generally believed to be only a part of the NLA's arsenal.

One reason the NLA is expected to hide many of its other arms is because of its fear of reprisals from Macedonian special forces if it were to disarm completely.

The Tigers are only the best-known of the forces on the Macedonian side. Unlike the regular police and the largely conscript army, they are well-trained and highly-motivated.

Hardline connection

The army also has its own special forces, known as the Wolves. Meanwhile, another elite army unit, the Scorpions, are often involved in activities outside Macedonia - taking part in Nato's Partnership for Peace exercises.

Macedonian policeman
The government says its troops may attempt to 'clear out' the NLA

The Tigers' commander is Risto Galevski, Macedonia's overall police chief.

But it is widely assumed that they have close, though informal, links to Macedonia's hardline Minister of the Interior, Ljube Boskovski.

For his part, Mr Boskovski has warned that the security forces would clear out remaining NLA fighters from their bases once Nato has left. If that were to be attempted, it would be an almost certain recipe for a protracted flare-up in the fighting.

Mr Boskovski is also the driving force behind the addition of the latest force - the Lions - which has been set up by his ministry.

The creation of the Lions - a rapid reaction force - has been surrounded by much controversy because of allegations that supporters of Mr Boskovski's party, the nationalist VMRO, have been recruited in large numbers.

Suspicion

For that reason, there's considerable suspicion not only among ethnic Albanians but also among Macedonians who do not support VMRO.

During June, the Interior Ministry distributed weapons to several thousand reservists; now some of these reservists and VMRO activists have become the backbone of the Lions.

There are allegations that the Lions could also provide a connecting link between Macedonian special forces and unofficial militias, such as the unit that calls itself Paramilitary 2000.

There is little evidence that these self-proclaimed paramilitary units actually exist - other than in the communiques they publish.

But the proliferation of special forces - particularly if that happens along party lines - may lead to the growth of paramilitaries. And that would be a further factor of instability in Macedonia.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Frank Gardner
"Nato has already begun destroying some of the collected weapons"
Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary
"We have agreed a 30-day mission"
James Pardew, US envoy to the Balkans
"We are looking at increasing civil monitors"

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See also:

01 Sep 01 | Europe
Macedonia's landscape of fear
31 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Macedonia: Wobbling Balkans domino
31 Aug 01 | Media reports
Macedonian leader urges unity
30 Aug 01 | Europe
Nato collects first third of arms
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