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Last Updated: Friday, 5 September, 2003, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
New concerns over Albanian guerrillas
By Gabriel Partos
BBC South-East Europe analyst

The Swiss authorities have announced that they have banned the political chief of ethnic Albanian guerrilla group the Albanian National Army, Gafurr Adili, from living in Switzerland.

Friday's announcement coincided with a continuing stand-off between ethnic Albanian fighters and Macedonian security forces around two northern villages where police have been looking for a fugitive Albanian guerrilla commander.

Ethnic Albanians in Lojane flee current stand-off
The latest stand-off follows the kidnapping of a police officer
But what does the Albanian National Army, known by its Albanian initials as the AKSh, stand for and how much support does it enjoy?

The shadowy AKSh emerged into the open at the time of the conflict between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and security forces in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia during 2001.

In the course of that confrontation, the vast majority of ethnic Albanian guerrillas were fighting in the ranks of the National Liberation Army, or UCK, and their goal was to secure more extensive collective rights for Macedonia's large ethnic Albanian community.

With many of those objectives adopted in the Ohrid accords of August 2001, the UCK under its leader, Ali Ahmeti, transformed itself into a political party, the Democratic Union for Integration. It has since joined Macedonia's coalition government.

Upsurge in violence

The former UCK's partial integration into Macedonia's political structures has opened the way for the AKSh to present itself as the new representative of ethnic Albanian interests, untainted by the benefits of sharing power.

Their fears and suspicions over the presence of the security forces may, in future, drive some ethnic Albanians into the arms of the AKSh
But the AKSh goes well beyond pursuing equal rights for ethnic Albanians. Instead, it stands for the creation of a greater Albania which would unite ethnic Albanian-inhabited regions of Macedonia, southern Serbia and Montenegro with Kosovo and the mother country, Albania, itself.

Indeed, AKSh groups have been active not just in Macedonia but also in Kosovo and in the Presevo valley in southern Serbia which has a substantial ethnic Albanian population.

This year, in particular, has seen an upsurge in violence in all these three regions. So much so, that in April the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, declared the AKSh a terrorist organisation.

That, in turn, has prompted governments in the region and beyond to take more determined action against those linked to the AKSh.

In July the authorities in Albania arrested Gafurr Adili, the AKSh's political leader. Now the Swiss authorities have banned him from living in their country where until now he has enjoyed refugee status - though it appears that he is not actually barred from visiting Switzerland where members of his family live.

Limited support

Concern over the role of the AKSh has been growing in recent months, not least because one of the individuals associated with it, who died while trying to blow up a railway bridge in Kosovo in the spring, was also a member of the entity's civilian emergency unit, the Kosovo Protection Force.

UCK fighter
Most ethnic Albanian guerrillas were in the UCK
There is also anger among Unmik officials who are trying to kick-start talks between Kosovar Albanian leaders and the Belgrade authorities that anti-Serb acts of violence apparently committed by the AKSh may delay the negotiations scheduled to start in September.

It is difficult to assess the strength of the AKSh because it is, by its nature, a highly secretive organisation. But it is unlikely to have more than a few hundred fighters spread over different countries and entities.

As for public support for the AKSh among ethnic Albanians, that, too, is believed to be rather limited because of loyalty to the more mainstream organisations or political parties that have emerged from the various former guerrilla groups in Kosovo, Macedonia and southern Serbia.

In any case, for the time being, most ethnic Albanians across the region seem to have adopted a "wait and see" attitude which is based on their expectations of how the various peace processes in the different entities work out.

Commander sought

If ethnic Albanians believe that their hopes are not being fulfilled and if other, more moderate organisations do not take up their grievances, the AKSh has the potential in the medium to longer term to mobilize a larger base of support.

In the more immediate term, the AKSh can exploit local problems - particularly in circumstances where its fighters succeed in provoking security forces to over-react.

The latest tension in Macedonia has followed the kidnapping of a Macedonian police officer - since released - by a self-proclaimed local AKSh commander, Avdil Jakupi.

The Macedonian security forces' attempt to apprehend him has led to armed ethnic Albanians taking control of two northern villages, Vaksince and Lojane.

These local Albanians - and others like them - have little sympathy for the AKSh's aim of creating a greater Albanian. But their fears and suspicions over the presence of the security forces may, in future, drive some of them into the arms of the AKSh.

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