A play with shooting from both sidesIncidents on the Macedonian-Kosovo border
FRI, 23 JUN 2000
Skopje, June 15, 2000 - At first, the Macedonian state leadership heightened tensions because of frequent incidents at the Kosovo border and when things reached the boiling point in the state and after the latest incidents of last weekend, the leadership hit the brakes in an attempt to soft-pedal the situation. This is all very well, naturally, but unfortunately doesn't last long if the problems are not resolved in a proper way.
When two soldiers laying in ambush so as to prevent illegal crossings from Kosovo, were wounded last Tuesday at the blockhouse of the Army of the Republic of Macedonia (ARM) near the Blace border crossing, it raised the alarm all over the country. The public protested, the opposition and the media close to it, opened fire against the authorities accusing them of incompetence.
President of the Republic, Boris Trajkovski, as the ARM supreme commander announced that combat readiness would be raised, border patrols doubled and armoured carriers used for the first time. The soldiers were given orders to shoot at anyone trying to illegally cross the Macedonian-Kosovo border. As far as the diplomatic aspect is concerned, he called Ambassadors of NATO member countries, sent a letter to Joseph Richardson, NATO Secretary-General and an Aide Memoir to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in which he mentioned the possibility of asking for the holding of a Security Council session. Also, in his contacts with the NATO leadership in Brussels, the Macedonian Defence Minister said "we will not close the borders, but will neither allow shooting at our border patrols". Other "serious unilateral measures" have also been announced if KFOR failed to "secure" the border from the Kosovo side.
No one could believe that some six days later, within some twelve hours a series of new incidents would occur at the Kosovo border. At the same blockhouse in Gornje Blace in the morning of June 9, someone fired from automatic weapons from the Kosovo side, after which the Macedonian border patrolmen opened fire. In the early morning hours on June 10, near the village of Lojane, in the commune of Kumanovo, taking advantage of the fog and bad weather, someone fired hundred bullets in the direction of the border point, from two moving cars on the other side of the border. When the Macedonian soldiers realised what was going on, the cars have already disappeared.
In the background of border incidents and widely commented visit of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgijevski, as well as his announcement of the opening of a new Macedonian office in Pristina, was the "AKSH" affair on the alleged Albanian para-military units in Macedonia which were there with the intention of "liberating the Albanian territories from the Slovene domination". There was also much debating about a secret army security report that had allegedly been submitted to the Prime Minister. Finally, some media published a facsimile of a document, the existence of which the officials denied. In the meantime, members of the Macedonian Academy raised their voice against draft Law on Education and the proposal of Van der Stuhl, OSCE High Representative for Minorities, with a solution for a ten-year old problem of higher education in the Albanian language, which according to them was destructive for the Macedonian state.
At the same time, another facsimile appeared. This time it was a letter of the Skoplje Public Prosecutor to an investigating judge demanding the release of Xhavit Hasani from detention, because unless he was set free the lives of four young people would be threatened. This was a treat for the media which raised the temperature with their claims that Hasani, whom KFOR had deported from Kosovo and who was allegedly an OVK hero, was previously sued for shooting when his illegally built house was being pulled down, was actually being exchanged for four abducted young Macedonian soldiers who had been kept in Kosovo for over 24 hours.
Instead of a climax of tensions caused by all these events, the hair was luckily soon let down. Both the President of the state and the Defence Minister revised their earlier statements, Parliament adopted some kind of vague report on the deterioration of security situation in the country, while the Government noted that the situation was stable and that there were no para-military units of any nationality in Macedonia.
Did the Government want to show that it took the advice of Ljubomir Frckovski, who in his column "The Borders" (Granice) published by the daily "Mews" (Dnevnik) wrote: "In such a situation, the state cannot adopt a strategy of a "floating cork" because it creates a collective fear of "danger" (whether it is real or imaginary, it is politically suitable for manipulation). That will first "destroy the Government" (which is not particularly important for this story) and change the political climate of inter-ethnic relations for the worse in the long-run. Naturally, no "easing" of tensions can be expected, but rather general mobilisation "against" others who will feel endangered and thus feel a pathological fear of the border which creates a political division into a homogenous and heterogeneous side".
In the last couple of years, border incident on the northern and western borders of Macedonia were quite frequent. There were incidents with the Yugoslav Army at the times when the Albanian side was not guarded, and now again with KFOR patrolling on the Kosovo side. According to the Defence Ministry some 662 illegal crossings were registered in the first six months of this year. In earlier years this number was 170, on average. During a period of over one year a soldier, Blagojce Krstanovski, was killed (April 9, 1999), three border patrolmen were wounded (April 23, 1999), four ARM soldiers kidnapped (April 2, 2000), two border guards were wounded (June 6) and fire was opened from Kosovo on the Gornje Blace blockhouse, as well as on the border point near the village of Lojane (June 9 and 10, 2000), in the commune of Kumanovo. This was enough for a front page of the daily "Macedonia Today" (Makedonia Denes): "Frail security - the Republic in Danger: Aggression on Macedonia". But, also for the editor-in-chief of the "News" to demand the "closing of all border crossings with Kosovo and keeping them sealed until NATO deploys its troops on the border and guarantees that fire wouldn't be opened from the other side in the direction of Macedonia ".
Leading figures from the coalition Democratic Party of Albanians joined the attempts to appease the Macedonian public. Its Vice-President gave an interview to a daily close to the opposition the "Morning News", while in a TV interview to the Macedonian TV, its leader Arben Xhaferi explained that nothing strange and out of the ordinary was happening in the country. Thaqi also commented on the events: "I claim that Macedonia was never more secure. This can be corroborated with arguments. On the outside the international community, KFOR, NATO, UNMIK will not allow the endangering of Macedonia by external factors. On the inside, the political situation is very stable. Both the authorities and the opposition have entered calm political waters. Although there were skirmishes, rallies and some bad Government moves, we are on the right track of becoming a legal state".
On Friday afternoon in Ohrid, leader of the united opposition Branko Crvenkovski, also said: "Madeleine Albright congratulated Georgijevski on the visit he paid to Pristina. Washington and Brussels commended him for receiving 360 thousand refugees from Kosovo. They also congratulated him on the way he resolved the language dispute with Bulgaria and, rest assured, they will praise him if he renounces the country's name and settles the dispute with Greece, amends the Constitution and satisfies his coalition partner. But, in the end, what is to be done with so many congratulations and without the state?" In a popular TV show "K-15" one of the characters, jinxed Toso dressed in a police uniform reads a graffiti: "Bad news: the state will be divided". He thinks what to do and finally adds: "Good news: our part will be bigger"!
In the meantime, Trajkovski took journalists for a visit to the Gornje Blace blockhouse where he announced greater activity of KFOR. And while he was visiting the border with his small company, KFOR's choppers were flying over the area. A day after there were nowhere to be seen, while spokesman for KFOR in Pristina stated that choppers would fly only when needed. Brussels hasn't sent any comforting reactions either, despite increased pressures that have been exerted on NATO. According to the Skopje "News" an "entire army", both the "artillery and the wolves" (a special ARM unit), are helping the border patrolmen protect the Macedonian-Kosovo border.