Medical Aid for Kosovo
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RFE/RL BALKAN REPORT
Vol. 5, No. 18, 9 March 2001
A Twice-Weekly Review of Politics, Media and Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty Broadcasts in the western Balkans
THE TANUSEVCI STORY--Skirmishes have continued recently near Macedonia's
northern border with Kosova, where three Macedonian policemen were
killed on 4 March. Authorities in Macedonia blame the NATO-led peacekeeping
force in neighboring Kosova for failing to do enough to secure the
border from armed Kosovar Albanian infiltrators. But RFE/RL correspondent
Jolyon Naegele reports from Skopje that Macedonian authorities may
be at least equally to blame for the violent dispute over the border
village of Tanusevci. Here is his report.
The dispute over the ethnic Albanian border village of Tanusevci in
northern Macedonia has been simmering for months. But its origins
predate Macedonian independence more than eight years ago.
Tanusevci lies within earshot of the border with Kosova, high in the
Black Mountains (Crna Gora/Karadak) north of Skopje. The village is
about 24 kilometers from the capital as the crow flies, but nearly
double that distance over winding roads. There is no bus service.
The nearest school and clinic are in the southern Kosovar town of
Viti, about an hour away on foot.
The border in the Black Mountains was never marked, and as long as
the former Yugoslavia existed it was nothing more than an administrative
boundary. Most residents considered themselves Kosovar Albanians.
The break-up of Yugoslavia had little immediate impact on Tanusevci.
But starting in the late 1990s, the village became a funnel for arms
to the Kosova Liberation Army, or UCK. Serb forces on occasion entered
Last year, Tanusevci became a transit point for weapons bound for
Albanian insurgents in the Presevo Valley of southern Serbia, some
30 kilometers to the northeast. A U.S. KFOR intelligence officer in
Viti told RFE/RL in June that KFOR was monitoring the movement of
weapons just across the border in northern Macedonia but, beyond informing
the Macedonian authorities, lacked a mandate to respond.
In the wake of an incident last September, in which Macedonian military
vehicles were fired upon near Tanusevci, Macedonian police went to
the village and checked the identity cards of residents. Those without
proper documentation were told to leave.
Macedonian officials -- who ask to remain anonymous -- say that before
NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia two years ago, Tanusevci had some 750
inhabitants. Even before the current violence erupted, the officials
say, that number had been reduced by more than half to about 300.
The most recent shootings began in February. At that time, police
went to investigate a report that a Skopje television news team had
been surrounded by armed Albanians, some in uniform, who confiscated
their equipment and ordered them to leave. Those in uniform wore patches
with the letters UCK, standing no longer for the disbanded Kosova
Liberation Army but rather for the National Liberation Army ("Kombetar"
is Albanian for "National").
Professor Bexheti is a member of one of Macedonia's two main ethnic
Albanian parties, the opposition Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD).
As Macedonia's minister for transportation and communications in the
mid-1990s, Bexheti visited Tanusevci several times in an effort to
end the village's isolation from the rest of Macedonia. Bexheti says
he understands why the villagers resorted to arms. "I fully excuse
their bid to establish their own fundamental civic rights for the
simple reason that for the last 50 years, all their educational, health
and business affairs were with Viti, a town in Kosova, rather than
with Skopje, from which unfortunately they were isolated due to wholly
inadequate transportation and [communications]."
Bexheti argues the people of Tanusevci were never provided with Macedonian
identity papers and that they also failed to register their births
in Macedonia. He notes that Macedonian authorities should have foreseen
that there would be trouble when they signed and ratified a treaty
with Yugoslavia last month defining their countries' common border,
including the Macedonian-Kosovar border.
The professor feels that "it is possible that [these] problems will
spread to other parts of Macedonia. There are some who [believe] that
the current situation in Macedonia regarding the constitutional and
legal status of Albanians will result in [something like] what is
happening now [but on a broader scale]. We must think seriously about
changing the constitutional and legal status [of Macedonia] from a
nation-state to one with a civic character -- that is, to establish
a civil or bi-national state of Macedonians and Albanians, embracing
the two main ethnic groups that live here and together make up 93
percent of all the citizens."
Tanusevci's rebels have been secretive about their aims and only publicly
declared their goals on 5 March. In a fax to Deutsche Welle's Albanian
Service, they said they are fighting for the equality of ethnic Albanians
Bexheti says he believes the government has responded to the uprising
as best it can. He feels that Skopje had no choice but to reinforce
its troops and police and try to avoid direct confrontation, while
seeking increased cooperation and understanding from the international
In contrast to Bexheti, whose party has been in the opposition for
more than two years, the deputy chairman of the Tetovo-based Democratic
Party of Albanians (PDSH), Menduh Thaci, is in a more difficult position.
The crisis in Tanusevci has developed at a time when his party is
the junior partner in a coalition government with the main Macedonian
nationalist party, known by the acronym VMRO- DPMNE. Thaci says outside
interests are taking advantage of Tanusevci residents. "I think that
the people who are responsible for the incidents and problems in Tanusevci
may be working for [other] services, for other interests -- but there
is nothing to suggest that they are working in the interest of Albanians.
I think in this situation one must look at the context -- or mosaic
-- of the latest, very arrogant attempts to destabilize the Macedonian
government and eventually the entire state."
Menduh Thaci says those behind the violence -- whom he suspects of
being connected with the Serbian and Russian secret services -- are
weakening his party's position in the government. He concedes that
Macedonian police may have mistreated some Tanusevci residents, but
he insists the police made no attempt at ethnic cleansing. In his
words: "That's not precise."
Only those without identity papers were forced by Macedonian police
to leave Tanusevci. But others left of their own accord to escape
the shooting between rebels and Macedonian security forces. In fact,
the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says more than 500 residents,
mainly women and children, left the village for Kosova late last month.
Macedonian Interior Ministry spokesman Stevo Pendarovski told our
correspondent on 7 March that there are now 300 armed men in the village,
many of them recruited in Viti.
Menduh Thaci estimates that out of a total ethnic Albanian population
in Macedonia of between 700,000 and 800,000, "well under 100,000"
lack Macedonian papers. Official estimates of the Albanian population
are closer to 500,000. (Editor's note: the Albanians boycotted the
most recent census, charging manipulation of data. Many ethnic Macedonians
suspect that the real reason was that the Albanians feared that the
census would reveal that their real numbers are far below the high
figures that many Albanian leaders claim.)
In contrast to Bexheti, Thaci does not see the unrest in Tanusevci
spreading to the rest of western Macedonia, where most of the country's
Albanians are concentrated. The gunmen "don't have a chance. These
same people -- perhaps 90 percent of them -- six or seven months ago
tried [to ignite unrest] in Upare, a village near Tetovo. But we as
a political party were decisive in putting a halt to this within 24
hours. So it's complicated because they picked Tanusevci this time,
since it is in terrain that is inaccessible for us."
Thaci, echoing the views of the Macedonian government, says his information
is that most of the rebels in Tanusevci are from Kosova. He describes
them as a mixture of UCK veterans, criminals, and smugglers.
Kim Mehmeti is an ethnic Albanian independent political analyst who
heads the Skopje-based non- governmental Center for Multi-Cultural
Understanding and Cooperation. He says Macedonia has been very slow
to take an interest in Tanusevci after years of isolation and harassment
of the villagers by Serbian police that ended only with the NATO air
strikes in 1999. He argues that the border treaty Macedonia signed
with Yugoslavia last month only added to the nervousness and mistrust
felt by Tanusevci residents, which culminated in their rebellion.
Mehmeti feels that the Macedonian government should amnesty the rebels.
"We [Albanians] are for the stability of this country. As far as I
know, not a single Albanian has said he wishes to see this state dissolved.
Where is the problem now? I have information that only ethnic Macedonians
[police and soldiers] are being deployed [around Tanusevci]. What
does that mean? [It means] that they don't trust us. These are the
realities that I see. An organized state should not let such matters
result in hysteria."
Mehmeti believes that the "them and us" mentality has been reinforced
ever since the establishment of an independent Macedonia in 1992.
He says he bristled every time Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski,
or his predecessor Kiro Gligorov, addressed the nation and said: "Macedonian
citizens and other citizens." That implies, he argues, that the 40
percent of the nation's population who are not ethnic Macedonians
-- but rather Albanians, Turks, Serbs, Muslims, Roma, and Vlachs --
are second-class citizens.
Moreover, Mehmeti says, current tensions and the loss of life in Tanusevci
-- one Albanian resident three weeks ago and three Macedonian policemen
on 4 March -- have, in his words, "lowered the level of Macedonian-Albanian
ethnic relations to zero -- where they were in 1990."
Mehmeti believes that Albanians and Macedonians alike are being manipulated.
He notes that Macedonian politicians and news media insist -- in his
view without a shred of evidence -- that Albanians set the mine that
killed two policemen on patrol near Tanusevci recently. Mehmet argues
that the mine could have just as easily been set by others in an attempt
to compromise the Albanians. (Jolyon Naegele)
Tanusevci is a remote and strategically unimportant village that is
"abandoned by God and the Devil, and where there are only sleepy villagers,
cows, and other animals." -- PDSH leader Arben Xhaferi, quoted in
the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 6
(Compiled by Patrick Moore)