THE SUNDAY TIMES: WORLD NEWS Date:
Sun, 18 Mar 2001
Albanian rebels , trained by the
SAS are gaining ground in Macedonia, aiming for the key city of
The emerging possibility of Kfor soldiers fighting
the rebel army that Nato helped to "liberate" Kosovo less than two
years ago has caused alarm in the alliance's headquarters in Brussels
and in western capitals.
Paddy Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader,
said the Macedonian conflict "can lead us to the wider Balkan war
that everyone has feared". He said Nato's troops in Kosovo were
caught in a lawless power vacuum in which there was a "growing hostility
towards the international community" dithering over the Serbian
province's eventual status.
He noted a clear similarity with Northern Ireland,
where he was among the first British troops in 1969. "I remember
being welcomed by the Catholics with tea and sandwiches," Ashdown
said. "It took about nine months to move from liberators to people
who stood in the way of their solution."
Lord Owen, the former foreign secretary and veteran
of Balkan conflicts, said the explosion of fighting in Macedonia
was a "wake-up call" for the international community, and predicted
a moment when Albanians "will turn on Nato forces".
He agreed with Kfor officers whose worst fear is facing
a guerrilla insurgency against the peacekeepers in Kosovo. "My judgment
is that we would not be ready or capable of facing that situation,"
NLA rebels took their fight to the streets of Tetovo
yesterday. Semi-automatic and machinegun fire rattled out over the
Muslim cemetery in the Tekke area as the Macedonian police and army
continued to pound the hillsides around Kale with mortars and shells.
Last night a Macedonian army helicopter crashed, killing the pilot
and injuring 12 men, after hitting a pylon at a nearby ski resort.
Embarrassingly for Kfor, it emerged that two of the
Kosovo-based commanders leading the Albanian push were trained by
former British SAS and Parachute Regiment officers in the days when
Nato was more comfortable with the fledgling Kosovo Liberation Army
A former member of a European special forces unit
who accompanied the KLA during the Kosovo conflict said that a commander
with the nom de guerre of Bilal was organising the flow of arms
and men into Macedonia, and that the veteran KLA commander Adem
Bajrami was helping to co-ordinate the assault on Tetovo. Both were
taught by British soldiers in the secretive training camps that
operated above Bajram Curri in northern Albania during 1998 and
"The final irony of this is that Nato will be facing
not only its own weapons but also its own tactics," said the special
forces soldier. "And Nato simply can't handle a guerrilla war -
the Albanians will beat them."
Even backed by howitzers placed in the football stadium
by the Macedonian army, the special police were no match for the
rebel group, said to number no more than 300 yesterday, and found
themselves pinned down by shooting from Kale and from three subordinate
positions in a bewildering combination of crossfire.
The NLA had also established three [Image] separate
mortar positions in an arc about seven miles from Tetovo. "I believe
they learnt all this from the SAS," said the soldier.
Meanwhile, Macedonian and Serbian populations began
to form militias to stop the rebels from overrunning the city.
"We need just three hours, but we need more guns,"
said "Nasko", who was at the head of a ragtag group of portly figures
in tracksuits in the cobbled streets of Dva Bresta, the most radical
Macedonian district. They screamed abuse at western television reporters,
kicked a CNN cameraman and almost lynched a Greek photographer who
tried to take a picture of an armoured personnel carrier.
"This is a religious war against Christians led by
the mujaheddin," raged Nasko, claiming the rebels were encouraged
by mercenaries from Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. A bystander pointed
out that Nasko was himself a Muslim from Serbia's Sanzak region.
As the muezzin's cry from a minaret was drowned out
by mortar fire, the backstreets of Tetovo became corridors of ancient
hatreds in which it was impossible to discern who was firing at
Armoured cars carrying American observers gingerly
made their way around deserted boulevards, but they, too, left with
the Germans. "This has caught us off-guard," said one American official
in the region. "It's the first test of Colin Powell's foreign policy,
and I don't know that he's got an answer."
British officers are known to favour a clampdown on
the Albanian rebels currently respecting a tenuous ceasefire in
Serbia's Presevo valley. But whether Britain will be drawn into
protecting Kfor's supply lines in Macedonia is unclear.
"The UK is not prepared to support Albanian extremism
and we are liaising closely with the Macedonian authorities," said
Major Fergus Smith, the British forces spokesman. Another officer
spoke privately of "suddenly being faced by Europe's Ulster".
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