Saturday, November 17, 2007

Another Greek metropolitan bishop wants piece of Macedonia

Just days after the scandalous statement of the Metropolitan Bishop of Thessaloniki Anthimos, another Greek Bishop - the Metropolitan of Galabryta Ambrosios, said that parts of Macedonia actually belonged to Greece.

"Since the attack is the best defense, the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki did very well. Skopje citizens rip the benefits of Monastery (Bitola) region, which is part of the Greek territory," the Greek media cited Ambrosios as saying.

"If Anthimos is a nationalist, then why is it improbable that some 'have sold' themselves to act in favor of foreign plans and interests," said the Greek Metropolitan's in his rhetorical question.

Bold police raid left six dead at a delicate time

Hundreds attended the funeral of the two Albanians killed in a military-style police raid last week in the village of Brodec in western Macedonia in an incident which threatens to stir up ethnic tensions again. Mourners were cramped into a mosque and a street in the village to which access is made difficult by a narrow, cratered road.

The raid, in which helicopters swooped in, automatic gunfire rang out and altogether six men were killed and 13 arrested, enraged the Macedonian Albanians in Brodec.

The incident now threatens to renew and ignite ethnic tensions in the area that teetered on the verge of a civil war when Albanians launched an insurgency in 2001.

Police said they had targeted a gang of fugitives from a prison in Kosovo, across the nearby border in an area largely disregarded by the local Albanian population, during the raid.

But many of Brodec's 1,300 still dazed and disbelieving inhabitants who say politics is of little interest to them, mutter that the deadly raid was politically motivated.

In their eyes, the two young local men they had come to bury and as those arrested during the raid are innocent.

"It was six in the morning, we were still in our beds when suddenly four helicopters appeared and started firing on the houses," Semsedin Selimi recalled.

While locals say that the helicopters sprayed walls, houses, the mosque and cars with bullets, Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska described the raid as a success without "major" collateral damage.

The six men were killed after they opened fire on police, officials say, backing the claim with forensic findings, along with that of a big cache of weapons that was seized in the Brodec.

The cache of automatic weapons, explosives, mines, grenades and rocket-propelled grenade launchers was intended for for attacks on cities and institutions, according to police.

Villagers, however, say they know nothing about the weapons.

"We are simple farmers loyal to the state," said Xheleb Dauti, who was still awaiting news of two sons and two grandsons who were among those arrested.

A third of Macedonian territory, along the northern and western borders with Kosovo and Albania, is dominated by ethnic Albanians, with Tetovo, the country's second-largest city, as the economic hub.

During the 2001 conflict, the entire region, dotted by villages along the porous borders and the population hostile to Skopje authorities, was virtually inaccessible for Macedonian police.

Even later, with the peace and reform deal fully in place, there were incidents of reportedly well-armed crime bosses and warlords driving police out of villages.

The showdown over the status of Kosovo, where the Albanian majority wants to obtain independence from Serbia, has again sent ripples of tension throughout the region.

The Albanians in Macedonia and southern Serbia keep their eyes riveted on Kosovo amid negotiations in a volatile atmosphere.

Ali Ahmeti, the mayor of Tetovo, who heads the Albanian opposition Democratic Union for Integration party and led the bloody insurgency in 2001, has criticized the raid.

In his words, the incident was a warning intended to "frighten and shut up" the Albanian population in Macedonia.

In 2001, the West brokered a peace deal which ended fighting through a broad constitution reform, giving Albanians and other minorities more rights in the dominantly Slavic Macedonia.

As a result, Macedonia became a regional example of conflict resolution for the United States, the European Union and the NATO alliance.

In return, Macedonia was given he status of prospective EU member state in 2005 with hopes of being invited to join NATO in 2008.

Brodec operation was successful, State Department deputy spokesman Casey

The operation of the Macedonian police conducted in Brodec village nearby Tetovo was successful, stated State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey at a regular press briefing in Washington. - It was a successful law enforcement operation conducted by a multiethnic police force against a group, including several wanted criminals, some of whom were recently escaped from a prison in Kosovo, Casey said.

Answering a journalist question, the State Department spokesman said that they didn't have any credible information that the group had Wahhabist ties.

- We're pleased that they nonetheless have been arrested and that some of the materials they were carrying were confiscated. And we certainly encourage the authorities to move quickly to restore normalcy to the village, he stated.

Foreign Policy Blunders

Macedonia's international position has been seriously jeopardized. On one side we face intensive Greek pressure, on the second is Kosovo, whose unresolved status threatens to bring about a new explosion in the Balkans, and on the third, are the unfulfilled obligations toward NATO and the European Union, which may torpedo Macedonia's 15-year-old foreign policy plans.

In view of this, the Macedonian leadership has the right to be concerned about the country's future and its Euro-Atlantic prospects. U.S. Ambassador to NATO Victoria Nuland has voiced the United States' concern about the stalled reforms in Macedonia and the absence of political dialogue. She clearly pointed to the criteria that Macedonia needed to meet if it wanted to shift matters to its benefit. She asked Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski to implement the May agreement that he made with Ali Ahmeti and resolve the status of the former ONA [National Liberation Army, UCK in Albanian] fighters. She asked the state leadership to develop a clear strategy regarding the country's future actions, adding that she expected [President Branko] Crvenkovski to use his authority and restart the stalled political dialogue.

However, a number of issues remain unclear. Did the U.S. ambassador to NATO come on a mission to prepare [Macedonia] for a compromise with Greece regarding our country's constitutional name? A senior official from the ruling coalition and leader of one of the parties participating in the government has said this on two occasions, and no refutation has yet come from the other participants in the talks. The party leader claims that the sole objective of Nuland's visit to the country was to advise its political leaders to start preparing the ground for a compromise with the Greeks.

If this is true, the state leadership should not keep silent. It should make public all the details regarding Nuland's visit. Nuland's post is important for Macedonia's Euro- Atlantic prospects and this gives an even greater weight to her assessments and positions about the situation in our country. If there were any warnings in this respect, it would be better to make them public sooner rather than later, because the price of the country's foreign-policy defeat can only increase afterward.

Therefore, it is disgusting and uncouth of the state leadership to clash over the interpretations of Nuland's criticism. The heated arguments exchanged last weekend [10-11 November] suggest that the distress was not so much due to the guest's slaps as it was due to the slaps to be received in public. Will somebody's popularity decrease or increase after confronting truth? What is the price of regaining consciousness and accepting reality?

It is surprising that even after the unpleasant meeting with the U.S. ambassador, the political leaders in the country have not taken any action to show that they got the message. The direct and unambiguous recommendations have failed to mobilize the country's leadership toward sprinting until April next year. Instead, a pause and a thunderous silence have ensued, with Gruevski's denials of any criticism and Crvenkovski's insistence on the opposite being the only audible sound.

Nevertheless, the public has no doubts about the collision in the country's foreign policy. Kosovo is preparing to declare unilateral independence and Macedonia lacks a strategy on how to defend itself from internal pressure and recognize the former Serbian province as an independent state. [Greek Foreign Minister] Dora Bakoyianni has been touring the European political centers and seeking (and receiving) support for her demand that Macedonia change its name if it wants to avoid Greece's veto on its NATO accession.

On top of all, the country has received negative assessments in the European Commission's report regarding its progress toward the European Union, along with a strong message that the political criteria for NATO accession are not being met either.

Urgent solutions are needed for these issues before it is too late.

Albanian secret service demands money for agents in Macedonia

Albanian state intelligence service SHISH demanded over 4 million euro extra funds to expand its activities in the region, including Macedonia.

Gazeta Shqiptare newspaper says the vast majority of additional agents will be sent to Kosovo, and the rest will be sent to "Albanian regions in Macedonia and Montenegro".

SHISH chief Bahri Shaqiri told the Albanian Parliament's National Security Committee that additional funds should be allocated to state intelligence service to expand its activities in 2008 and to recruit new agents outside the country.

The newspaper, citing sources who attended the session, says extra funds and new recruits will help the country stand ready for the eventualities that may arise from the tense situation in the Balkan.

A portion of funds will be used to strengthen the network of collaborators within the country and to step up the fight against terrorism, corruption and organized crime. Following the visit to Tirana by the US President George Bush, the government called on SHISH to downsize agents, the newspaper said, adding that 129 agents were laid off meanwhile.

Bakoyannis on FYROM 'name issue'

The need for a mutually acceptable solution to a dispute between Greece and the neighboring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the so-called "name issue" -- the only difference separating the two countries -- was once again stressed by Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on Thursday.


Bakoyannis was replying to questions concerning a statement made the previous day by US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, a former US ambassador to Greece.


"Nobody wants to be put in the position of having to use a veto, that is why mutually acceptable solutions are needed," Bakoyannis said.


She emphasised that the goal - on the basis of UN Security Council decisions and an Interim Agreement signed by Greece and FYROM in 1995 - was to find a mutually acceptable name that would allow Skopje's unobstructed progress toward joining the European Union and NATO, with respect for good neighbour relations.


Bakoyannis also pointed out that good neighbour relations were among the fundamental criteria for all relations of partnership and alliance.


"This is Greece's goal, we are going to move in this direction on condition - I repeat - that we find a mutually acceptable solution to the issue of the name," the minister said.

Bakoyannis made the statements on the sidelines of a reception she hosted on Thursday for the ambassadors and envoys of Arab countries stationed in Greece, specifically those of Syria, Algeria, Iraq, Egypt, Kuwait, Tunisia, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Talks at the reception focused on developments in the SE Mediterranean region, with an emphasis on the Middle East problem.

FYROM cannot join NATO or EU without the consent of Greece

FYROM cannot join NATO or the European Union without the consent of Greece, the Greek daily Naftemporiki reported, commenting on the US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns. According to Burns, the problem between Athens and Skopje for the name of Macedonia could not be considered a reason that could stop the accession of the country to the Alliance. He noted that a name of the republic, which is acceptable for both countries should be found.

Divided politicians - Macedonia stagnates on road to EU

Macedonia has stagnated on its road to the European Union due to divisions among politicians in the country, who are still not aware that they have to cooperate and help each other.

These are the remarks of Jelko Kacin, Member of European Parliament and the European Parliament's rapporeteur for Macedonia and also a member of the Bureau of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).

"Macedonia, the EU candidate-country, waits and still didn't get a starting date for accession talks. Politicians in Macedonia, both the Macedonian and Albanian, are still divided and don't understand that they can join the EU as a whole country only." Kacin said after the European Commission's progress report on Macedonia, presented earlier this month.

According to Kacin, following the shift of power in Macedonia, the progress is insufficient and not promising.

"The implementation of the Ohrid Agreement in practice shows that the majority and the minority are not aware that the country's progress on the road to EU is possible only through co-operation and assistance by all," Kacin said. The ALDE Group is the third largest political group in the European Parliament.

A senior NATO official has told Macedonian leaders that the next few months are going to be decisive for Macedonia’s NATO membership bid.

The tiny Balkan nation host Croatia today and, if they win, they will keep alive England’s chances regardless of the result between Israel and Russia.

Group E leaders Croatia still need a point to qualify and, if they lose here in Skopje, England will be able to pip them to a Euro 2008 spot by beating them 2-0 at Wembley.

Steve McClaren’s men suffered a shock goalless draw at Old Trafford against the former Yugoslav republic.

And their star striker Ilco Naumovski, 24, has vowed to boost England’s chances by producing yet another shock result against Croatia today. He told SunSport: “I would like to see England go to Euro 2008 because it’s a big nation.

“Every football fan would prefer England to go to the European Championships than Croatia.

“I play football in Austria so I would like to watch England this summer. If we beat Croatia I know England will have a chance. I am 100 per cent sure we won’t lose here. I am 100 per cent convinced we will win here.”

Naumovski’s team-mates are a bunch of journeymen who ply their trade in Europe’s lesser leagues like Austria, Greece and Cyprus.

They are all desperate to get away from the national league, where the average monthly salary is a paltry £140.

In other words, some players in the squad of the Balkan paupers earn 1,000 times less in a month than England skipper John Terry earns in a WEEK.

Yet Naumovski insists they are not a team of no-hopers and they proved that with the goalless draw in England — one of the results that have brought McClaren’s men to the brink of catastrophe.

Naumovski added: “We have a very good team. We showed that against England. If we can draw in England, why can’t we beat Croatia at home?

“First we play for our country but if we can help England as well then great. There is no way Croatia will walk this game. They will have to fight hard not to lose it.

“This game is much too important for us.

“This is a Balkan derby, a big-time match.

“I know every Croatian player, they’re friends of mine. But they’re no friends of mine on Saturday.

“For us we all want to win, no draw or loss against Croatia — never!

“We need points to ensure our FIFA ranking stays high but this local derby is more important than that.

“Croatia and England are different teams. Croatia is a more technical team but I prefer the style of England.

“Against England every country gives 200 per cent because it’s one of the biggest. It would be a great shame for England if they didn’t qualify — and for the tournament itself. Don’t forget, football comes from England.”

Naumovski, who plays for Matersburg in Austria, is set for a switch to English football — with Reading and Leicester eager to snap him up.

He dreams of playing in the Premier League but SunSport understands the offer from Leicester supremo Milan Mandaric is better than the one from the Royals.

Naumovski added: “I know Reading and Leicester are interested in me. I would love to play in England.

“I know people will be coming from England to watch me in that game. It’s my big dream to play in England. In the past I was close to coming to England but I got injured.

“Now I’ve been playing in Austria for a couple of years and I was voted the best striker there last season.”

Macedonia skipper Goce Sedloski last night sent a blunt message to England: “You’ve only got yourselves to blame if you do not qualify.”

Sedloski, 33, who played in the Premier League for Sheffield Wednesday a decade ago, said: “England can’t say they are relying on Israel or ourselves to get a result.

“It’s their fault they could not beat us and they lost to Croatia and Russia. Although I would like to see them in Euro 2008, if they don’t go it means they don’t deserve it because they could not get results in the games that mattered in Moscow and Zagreb.”

A draw would be considered a great result for Macedonia. Yet Sedloski insisted his side will go all out for the win at the Gradski Stadium.

He added: “We must get the points because it’s important for us ahead of the draw for the World Cup.

“There’s no calculation for us and we don’t think that a draw is good for both our team and Croatia. We will play to win.”

NATO Urges More Macedonia Reforms

A senior NATO official has told Macedonian leaders that the next few months are going to be decisive for Macedonia’s NATO membership bid.

Martin Erdman, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Security Policy of NATO, told Macedonia’s President Branko Crvenkovski on Friday that, “additional positive signals concerning the fulfilment of the criteria for receiving an invitation for NATO membership”, are expected from the country.

During his meeting with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski on Thursday, Erdman listed the key requirements Macedonia has to fulfil before it can secure an invitation to join NATO.

Macedonia is hoping, along with Albania and Croatia, to receive a formal invitation at NATO’s summit in Bucharest, due in April 2008.

The criteria Erdman listed included the sustainability of Macedonia’s reform process and the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Agreement that brought to an end a six-month confrontation between Macedonian security forces and armed ethnic Albanian groups.


He also called for improved inter-ethnic relations, a sustainable dialogue and cooperation between the political parties and long-term political stability.

Erdman is leading a NATO team, which is evaluating Macedonia’s progress on its path to the Alliance.

“We need to stop wasting precious time and speed up the reform process”, Crvenkovski told media on Friday, urging to all political parties to reach consensus over the crucial requirements of NATO and subsequent EU membership.

Erdman praised Macedonia’s, “successful regional policy”, and the, “economic breakthrough”, that the country was making, adding that this, too, would be taken into consideration.

Asked to comment about US concern that Macedonia is backsliding on reform, a point made by Victoria Nuland, the US Ambassador to NATO, Erdman said that there were no rankings among the three NATO applicants.

In a statement on November 8, Nuland said, “My president wants to see you in NATO, but unfortunately from the three candidate countries you are currently holding third place”.

Macedonia picks Ubuntu for 20,000 PCs

A batch of 7,000 PCs with Ubuntu Linux have been sent to Macedonian schools, the first of a collection that Ubuntu sponsor Canonical expects will reach 20,000.

Through a program called Computer for Every Child, the Macedonia Ministry of Education and Science plans to install the PCs throughout its elementary and secondary school system. Ubuntu will run on the 20,000 PCs, but 160,000 more students will be able to share those machines using hardware from NComputing, Canonical plans to announce Tuesday. The PCs are being supplied and installed by Haier, a Chinese PC maker.

"The Computer for Every Child initiative is the largest and most important education project undertaken in the 15-year history of the Republic of Macedonia," said Ivo Ivanovski, Macedonia's minister for the information society, in a statement. "By selecting Ubuntu as the operating system for all of our classroom virtual PCs, our education system can provide computer-based education for all schoolchildren within the limited financial and infrastructural confines that most institutions face today."

The schools are using version 7.04 of Edubuntu, a version of Ubuntu tailored for classroom use.

With PCs already commonplace in richer countries, companies such as Intel, Microsoft, and Canonical are focusing on reaching markets in developing countries.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Macedonia Must Work for the NATO Membership Invitation in the Next 6 Months

Macedonia must work for the NATO membership invitation in the next six months, which are historic for the country, said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, Christopher Hill following Tuesday's meeting with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.


"It is not up to me to say any news regarding the process. However, it is obvious that the upcoming period will be very important. I know there is a desire for Macedonia to succeed, but there is going to be a lot of work to do. Everybody needs to pull together and come together, politicians of all different parties, because if there was ever a time to work together, then the next six months is that time", said Hill.

Asked about an assessment of the security situation in Macedonia, Hill did not give any comment, adding his main interest is North Korea's nuclear program.

Gruevski and Hill referred to the time when he had been the U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia, comparing the country's problems back then with the current ones, as well as the country's NATO aspirations.

"We contrasted the time I was here, when we dealt with difficult problems, such as war and peace, as opposed to the current ones, which are more inspiring, such as Macedonia's desire to join NATO", said Hill.

Earlier, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Hill met with President Branko Crvenkovski and Parliament Speaker Ljubisa Georgievski.

President Crvenkovski will present Order "September 8" to Hill at an evening formal ceremony. He is rewarded for the outstanding contribution to the development and strengthening of Macedonia-USA friendly relations, as well as cooperation during his mandate as U.S. Ambassador the the country from 1996 to 1999.

Macedonia name issue still a stumbling block

With Macedonia hoping for a NATO invitation in 2008 and Greece threatening to block it, there are pressing reasons to resolve their decades-old name dispute. But UN envoy Matthew Nimitz -- brokering negotiations between the two sides -- still faces a task akin to the labour of Sisyphus, the legendary king cursed to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity.

Both countries are proving tough bargainers, with Greece prepared to exercise its power within the EU and NATO, and its neighbour banking on getting enough international recognition to put pressure on Athens.

Late last week, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski firmly rejected the idea of a "dual name", under which the country would keep its constitutional name but use a different one internationally.

Any name other than Republic of Macedonia -- the name given in the constitution -- is unacceptable, Gruevski said.

The dual name idea is included in a new set of proposals presented by Nimitz at the start of the month. The prime minister said that while the document contains some good points, others pose a problem for Skopje.

"There is an item that is definitely unacceptable for us, which says that the Republic of Macedonia is to accept for international use a name other than the constitutional name of the Republic of Macedonia," Maxfax quoted him as saying.

Earlier, Macedonian leaders issued a statement opposing any name change, even if this means being denied NATO entry. The ruling VMRO party, its ally the Democratic Party of Albanians and the opposition Social Democrats have presented a united front on the issue. Polls show overwhelming opposition -- approaching 100% -- to a new name for international use.

Greece, however, argues that the name "Macedonia" implies claims on Greek territory and distorts history. According to the Greek daily Kathimerini, Athens is signaling that it would accept a composite name – such as Nova Macedonia or Upper Macedonia -- that clearly distinguishes the country from the Greek province of Macedonia.

Greek diplomats have already circulated proposals to this effect to members of the UN Security Council, NATO and the EU, Kathimerini said.

"Greece wants to solve the problem -- it is making a sincere effort in this direction," Nimitz said in an interview with the paper.

According to Denko Malevski, a former Macedonian foreign minister and UN ambassador, Greece "wants a fast solution, fearing complication after the recognition of the Republic of Macedonia's constitutional name by Canada" and other states.

However, he added, the political situation in Macedonia and Greece makes such a solution difficult to achieve.

Current Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki, meanwhile, hopes that "Greece will give advantage to regional priorities. The resolution of the name dispute is a factor for our stability, and our stability is beneficial for the Republic of Greece," he says.

Monday, November 12, 2007

13 Albanians in Macedonia accused of terrorism

Macedonian authorities have pressed charges against 13 Albanians arrested in the Mountain Storm operation, Serbian online edition Politika writes. Spokesman of Macedonian police Ivo Kotevski announced that the government wants arrested Albanians to be charged with attempts against the state. Interior minister Gordana Jankulovska announced that the police found weapons that are enough for 650 soldiers.

UNMIK extradites cop killer to Macedonia

Zaim Alili, who in addition to his conviction is wanted on several other felony charges, escaped to Kosovo after a clash with Macedonian police.

Macedonian MUP spokesman Ivo Kotevski told reporters Saturday that Alili was convicted for the September 10 murder of a police chief in the village of Matejce, Kumanovo municipality, and intent to murder another officer.

Alili was wounded in a shoot-out with Macedonian police, but managed to escape to Kosovo, where he was arrested by the Kosovo Police Service (KPS).

He was first sent to hospital, and later to the Dubarava prison.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Macedonian Special Police Eliminate Armed Albanian Group with Paramilitary, Wahhabi Ties, Seizing Massive Arsenal

At around 5am on 7 November, an ethnically-mixed elite police force in Macedonia raided the remote, Albanian-populated village of Brodec. Their target: a group of vigilantes, led by a known Wahhabi extremist and a paramilitary partner who had been mysteriously sprung from jail in Kosovo in August. It would be the single biggest success to date for beleaguered Macedonia, chronically beset by troublemaking from Kosovo-based insurgents working in alliance with local radicals.

Unlike various similar operations carried out by the previous two Macedonian governments since 2001, innocent bystanders were not caught in the crossfire and there was no large-scale property destruction. The smooth handling of the operation won the interior ministry praise from foreign officials such as Victoria Nuland, US ambassador to NATO, who stated, “we were informed on the operation. We were especially impressed by the fact that multi-ethnic police forces carried out the tasks.”

Indeed, the operation – grandiosely dubbed ‘Mountain Storm,’ after the Sar Planina Mountain range where the villages of Brodec, Vejce and Vesela are located – was very successful, with six fugitives, including the Wahhabi ringleader, Ramadan Shiti, being killed, and 13 other terrorists captured. In the dramatic gun battle that ensued, only one policeman was injured. However, one of the most wanted men – Lirim Jakupi, self-proclaimed ‘Commander Nazi’ – escaped. Criminal charges on grounds of terrorism have been submitted against all 17 members of the group, as well as the four remaining fugitives, thought to be led by Jakupi.

Although the interior ministry at first stated officially that the killed and captured men were mere ‘criminals,’ the astonishingly large variety of weapons seized – enough for waging a small war – in houses and fields near Brodec belied that assertion. So did the fact that some, such as leader Shiti, have previously been linked with the Saudi-backed Wahhabi Muslim sect’s attempts to take control of the Islamic communities in Macedonia and Kosovo. Indeed, during the operation, Ramadan Shiti reportedly died as a suicide bomber, igniting the grenade he was carrying when surrounded by police.


Ready for War

Macedonia’s Minister of Interior, Gordana Jankuloska, stated for media on 9 November that the Brodec haul was “the largest amount of [heavy] weaponry… seized thus far” in Macedonia. The arsenal included everything from sniper rifles, assault rifles, dynamite, hand grenades, mortars and thousands of bullets to artillery pieces, RPG launchers and laser-guided anti-aircraft missiles. The cache was deemed “sufficient to equip a battalion of 650 soldiers.” Indeed, black nationalist paramilitary uniforms were also found (the gang had been allegedly involved in conducting nighttime uniformed roadblocks in recent weeks in the area). The impressive haul, which also included nationalist booklets and weaponry manuals, was laid out for journalists and military attaches to inspect at police barracks in the western Skopje suburb of Gjorce Petrov on 9 November.

Other clear indications of the long-term war plans of the militant group became apparent when television crews showed the professional-standard bunkers dug into the mountainside above the village, stocked with sleeping bags, large bags of onions and potatoes, and other rations. The structures even included improvised shower cabins and beds. Both cars and horses had been used to bring in supplies from the nearby mountain border with Kosovo, as well as from Tetovo and other places. According to retired Army Col. Blagoja Markovski, now with the Balkan Security Forum, “the [terrorists] came in this region two or three months ago… with a plan, and were preparing for military actions.”

Countdown

The operation followed several weeks of tracking the fugitives, who were moving “throughout the tri-border area” between Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, aided by a large network of safe houses, stated one ranking military intelligence officer for Balkanalysis.com. However, the authorities also had their own network of local informers. “We contributed information from our side to the police, as did the Serbian government and KFOR [in Kosovo].” Finally, the special police unit, composed of officers of both Macedonian and Albanian ethnicities, pounced on Brodec in the early hours, sealing off the village and setting up checkpoints on access roads. The plans were finalized after the green light was given by US Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic and EU Special Representative Erwan Fouere, joked the officer- “our real ‘president’ and ‘prime minister.’”

Action

According to published accounts quoting police participants, the militants began firing first, forcing the police to shoot back. The battle took place in and around several houses in the village, as well as the Brodec mosque, which was being used as an arsenal by the gang. When the shooters were killed, police were able to scour the adjoining territory, discovering more arms caches and the bunkers, set in strategic places on the mountainside, with commanding views of the village and Tetovo beneath. Individuals killed in the operation included Hisni Ameti, also known as ‘Commander Cevaj,’ and Imer Gavazi (42), both from Kosovo; Bekim Memeti (21) from Tetovo; Ferat Sahini (20) and Fidan Fejzulahu (24), both from Brodec; and Ramadan Shiti (24), from Kosovo.

Shiti had already escaped twice from prison, once in Macedonia and once in Kosovo, and was wanted as an accomplice in the murder of a Skopje taxi driver and for participating in a bomb attack on the Bit Pazar police station in Skopje in July 2005.

However, while Shiti may be dead, according to Macedonian intelligence sources surveyed by Balkanalysis.com, some of his major accomplices in those crimes are still at work in Kosovo, developing the growth of radical Islamist cells there, with support from Saudi and other Arab countries channeling funds via diaspora Albanian radicals in Milan, Italy as well as Austria and Bosnia.

The Macedonian government claimed that the August ‘escape’ from Dubrava Prison of Shiti, Jakupi and co. was not a matter of luck, but done purposefully by ‘certain structures’ eager to provoke unrest to influence the Kosovo status process around the scheduled conclusion of ‘final’ negotiations between Serbs and Albanians on 10 December. That said, the bold, professional and unexpected operation was a sign of how far the country has come since the 2001 war, when unnecessary collateral damage and widespread leaks precluded efficient operations.

The present raid was very impressive, thus, in that it involved a multi-ethnic police force, operating in hostile and remote territory, and in that it unfolded amidst total secrecy. The fact that innocent bystanders were not affected also speaks well for the interior ministry’s newfound professionalism; this outcome is crucial as critics such as the opposition DUI party of former NLA boss Ali Ahmeti cannot claim it to have been an attack on the Albanian people, and thus use it to provoke knock-on violence.

Future Developments

On 9 November, Macedonian Intelligence Agency Director Viktor Dimovski was quoted as stating that Macedonia “is not under any immediate threat” of attacks from abroad following Operation Mountain Storm. However, rumblings from Kosovo and from NLA war veterans indicate that new provocations may occur. A shadowy, Tetovo-based separatist organization, calling itself the Political-Military Council of the KLA, claimed that the Jakupi-Shiti group was linked to them, and swore it would defend Albanian “national honor” through violence.

The still unknown organization claims that it has created paramilitary groups allegedly “to protect the endangered Albanian people, and every inch of Albanian territory.” In a statement relayed by Serbia’s B92, the group vows that “there can be no stable political or military solution, peace or stability in the turbulent Balkans without respect and implementation of a decision taken at a conference in Bujan for self-determination (Kosovo, and unification with Albania), and for institution of a military oath for all three liberation armies – Kosovo, Eastern Kosovo (Preševo, Bujanovac, Medveđa), and Macedonia.”

For his part, the better known local radical Xhezair Shaqiri (“Commander Hoxha”) threatened to “square accounts” with the Interior Ministry, reported Sitel Television, stating “we will wait for the police wherever they come.” Unlike the obscure “Political-Military Council,” Commander Hoxha begged ignorance of the culprits in Brodec shootout.

There are signs, however, of a certain momentum building up as Macedonia shows it is serious about cleaning up the territory from would-be troublemakers, and that outsiders are beginning to respect this. Three days after the police operation, the Kosovo government extradited another Albanian, Zaim Halili, to Macedonia. Halili had been wanted for the murder of Fatmir Alili, the (also Albanian) police chief of Matejce village, north of Kumanovo. In the attack of 9 September, which also involved two other accomplices, two Macedonian policemen, Janche Kitanov and Sladjan Kostovski were injured.

To conclude, the government’s success in eliminating paramilitary threats on their own turf and before they have time to position heavy weaponry is a dramatic and unprecedented defeat for the Albanian irredentists who would like to sever the western third of Macedonia for themselves. There are a number of reasons for this. A significant one is that the Macedonian police are much better trained and equipped than they were six, or even three years ago. The second vital factor is that they received cooperation from locals; indeed, without tips from local Albanians, discovering the vigilantes and their stashed weapons would have been much more difficult. Interestingly, a local Albanian from Brodec interviewed by television journalists stated that had the police in 2001 done such a ‘neat’ operation in the beginning of the war, it could have been stopped before escalating out of control. This week’s operation shows that the Macedonian security forces have come a long way in that time.

Macedonia ranks 35th in gender equality index

Macedonia was ranked 35th in the World Economic Forum's ranking of gender-equal countries, a survey conducted in 128 countries worldwide.

Nordic countries - Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland - dominated top gender-equality index. These countries retained the four top sport sin the 2007 Gender Gap Index, released by the Swiss-based forum on Thursday.

The study compared four areas: differences between men and women's salaries, access to education, political representation and health including life expectancy.

Turkey is the lowest ranked among the European countries.

Pakistan, Chad and Yemen are placed at the bottom of the table of 128 countries, with the biggest gaps in the four areas.

As regards the countries in the region, Croatia is highest ranked - 16th, followed by Bulgaria - 25th, Macedonia - 35th, Slovenia - 39th, Albania - 66th, Greece - 72nd and Turkey - 121st.

According to survey, Macedonia's total population ranges 2.03 million, population growth of 0.18%. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita - $6.405, overall population sex ratio (male/female) - 1.00.

Women in Macedonia have been entitled to vote since 1946. Macedonia had no woman president. Women in parliament - 28%, women in ministerial posts - 17%

Macedonia's credit ratings remain stable

Credit ratings of Macedonia were not affected by lack of EU accession date, said Standard & Poor's, the world's foremost provider of credit ratings.

Standard & Poor's assigned a BB+ credit rating with a stable outlook to Macedonia's long-term debt in foreign currency, and a credit rating of BBB- with a stable outlook for short-term debt in domestic currency.

Factors constraining the ratings of Macedonia include structural rigidities and residual political tensions among political parties, Standard & Poor's said.

Macedonia wins 'European Economic Development Region 2008' award

International Institute for Transport Management (ITM) has chosen Macedonia as 'European Economic Development Region' for 2008. - The World Bank's ranking of Macedonia as the fourth best reformer and the European Commission recognition of the country's economic progress present a confirmation that the Government reforms are going into the right direction, Foreign Investment Agency Director Vikto Mizo said Thursday at a press conference.

By awarding Macedonia, ITM calls on its members to take the country into consideration when they make investment decisions.

The award criteria include a solid infrastructure, integrated economic development tools, a well trained workforce, viable opportunities for growth and marketing.

- We have gotten the highest grades for the campaign (Invest in Macedonia), which according to ITM is being successful above all in altering the perception and image of Macedonia, Mizo said.

The award will be presented at a ceremony in London on November 26.

Commenting on the award to Macedonia, ITM Media & PR Director Mr. Patrick Sheedy said: "In light of the current economic and political circumstances in Macedonia, particularly the progressive commercial climate being nurtured by the Government, European investors would do well to consider Macedonia as a potential setting for their own growth and development."

Macedonia displays seized arms, seeks terror charges

The operation, which officially left six gunmen dead, 11 wounded and 13 arrested, was carried out in the villages at the foot of Mt. Šara, and was dubbed Mountain Storm.

The presentation took place at Gjorce Petrov police barracks today, attended by police attaches within foreign embassies in Skopje, the country's state television MRT reported.

Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska also addressed some members of an police rapid deployment unit, who took part in massive raids earlier this week.

The group that clashed with police was thought to be headed by Ramadan Shiti and Lirim Jakupi, a.k.a. Nazi, who escaped from Dubrava prison in Kosovo a few months ago. Shiti was killed in the showdown, while Jakupi was not captured.

Yesterday, Croatian television HRT reported that Priština daily Koha Ditore carried a statement by a group calling itself the Political-Military Council of the KLA, which said it was behind the incident.

Today, it emerged authorities are seeking charges of terrorism against 13 suspected ethnic Albanian extremists who were arrested with the massive weapons cache that included anti-aircraft missiles and artillery pieces.

Police spokesman Ivo Kotevski said the government would recommend that charges of terrorism and activities against the state be filed against the suspects — all men — and four accomplices who evaded arrest.

Authorities said weapons were sufficient to equip a battalion of 650 soldiers. They included laser-guided anti-aircraft missiles, artillery pieces, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, sniper rifles, assault rifles, dynamite, hand grenades, mortars and thousands of bullets, police said.

"This is the largest amount of weaponry ever seized (in Macedonia), with huge destructive power," Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska said Friday.

Police described the gunmen with him as members of a "criminal gang" but on Friday suggested their motives may have been political.

"The seized bombs, grenades and mortars clearly show the criminal gang planned larger operations," a police official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to comment on the case.

Authorities said they could not say where the weapons had come from and have not identified all the gunmen killed.

Police spokesman Kotevski said one of the gun battle victims was Shiti, who committed suicide, placing a hand grenade under his body when he discovered he was surrounded.

Ethnic Albanians make up about a quarter of Macedonia's 2 million people.

Friday, November 09, 2007

NATO official urges Macedonia to speed up reforms for membership bid

Macedonia should redouble its efforts to qualify for NATO membership next year, a senior U.S. official at the alliance said Thursday.

The tiny Balkan state had made "truly remarkable" progress with reforms aimed to meet alliance standards, U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Victoria Nuland said.

"But our message today is, when you are running the marathon you cannot relax" just before the end, she said. "You have to sprint to the finish."

Macedonia and fellow-Balkan states Albania and Croatia hope to be invited to join NATO at the alliance's summit next spring in Bucharest, Romania.

After a meeting with Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Nuland urged further progress with reforms aimed at reconciliation with the country's restive ethnic Albanian minority, members of which staged an armed uprising in 2001.

Nuland added that Macedonia has to strengthen the rule of law, reform the judiciary and promote good relations with its neighbors — particularly NATO-member Greece. Athens has threatened to block Macedonia's NATO bid due to a dispute over the country's name, which Greece says could imply claims on the northern Greek province of Macedonia.

Macedonia ratings unaffected by lack of EU accession date

Standard & Poor's (NYSE:MHP) Ratings Services said that the EU's decision not to recommend a date for accession talks for the Republic of Macedonia has no impact on the country's 'BB+' foreign and 'BBB-' local currency rating.

The outlook on the ratings is stable.

Firefight Kills Eight In Macedonia Near Kosovo Border

The authorities say the firefight took place after an operation against an "armed criminal group" and that all the dead were members of the gang.

The clash comes amid rising ethnic and regional tensions in the run-up to the end of talks on Kosovo's future status on December 10. Ethnic Albanians make up around 25 percent of Macedonia's population.

The Macedonian authorities maintain that the recent fight was part of a routine police action targeting criminals crossing the border from Kosovo.

The Interior Ministry said the operation was aimed at a group led by Lirim Jakupi, a fugitive from a Kosovo prison and a former member of the outlawed Albanian National Army. Jakupi, who goes by the nickname "the Nazi," managed to escape capture.

The Albanian National Army includes former members of the Albanian nationalist movement that spawned the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK).

In spite of the police description of the operation as an anticrime crackdown, others say it has broader implications.

Biljana Vankovska, a professor at the Institute for Defense Studies in Skopje, says that the police found more -- and more dangerous -- weapons than an ordinary criminal gang would possess. The police, Vankovska says, announced that they would need several trucks to transport the seized weapons, which include rocket-propelled grenades and other sophisticated equipment.

Vankovska also says that, while the group involved in the clash may indeed take part in criminal activities, they behave more like a guerrilla movement. Their members wear black uniforms, and last week they set up informal checkpoints on mountain roads in the area where they operate.

And Vankovska says that "the past relations between Kosovo fighters and [ethnic Albanian] Macedonian fighters are still very close."

She says the intentions of the groups remain vague, but appear to link to a power struggle within Kosovo as the ethnic-Albanian government of the province plans to declare independence from Serbia in the beginning of December.

"This is not only a fight of gaining independence for Kosovo but also for the leadership in the future state of Kosovo," Vankovska said. "So, many people, many leaders have much at stake right now. It is very much I would say an intra-Albanian conflict but not only in Macedonia but you have to take in mind a regional context as well."

Northwestern Macedonia was on the verge of a civil war in 2001, but a growing Albanian insurgency was quelled and a broader conflict averted by a broad peace-and-reforms package brokered by the West to give ethnic Albanians more rights.

But the area has remained volatile due to ethnic-Albanian hostility to the central government, and porous borders with Kosovo to the north and Albania to the west.

Skopje, keen to project an image of stability as it seeks eventual membership in both NATO and the European Union, has frequently downplayed the risk presented by armed groups in the country’s northwest.

And on November 7, Avni Arifi, a spokesman for Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku, said that Kosovo authorities are interested in stability in Macedonia.

"We urge the institutions in Macedonia to protect the lives of its citizens and private property. Peace and stability in the region is very important for Kosovo and the process Kosovo is going through," Arifi said.

The same day, Kosovo police spokesman Veton Elshani said that the Kosovo police force and the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, KFOR, have increased control of the Kosovo-Macedonian border and are acting in cooperation with Macedonian security institutions.

A key factor in avoiding further conflict in the coming weeks will be the reaction of ethnic-Albanian political parties in Macedonia, says Blagoja Kuzmanovski, the head of the Macedonian-language bureau of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Skopje.

"If they support these police actions, it will be good for the situation in Tetovo and Macedonia. But if they want to benefit from the situation for their own purposes, it will be bad," Kuzmanovski says.

Kuzmanovski notes that the November 7 incident is not an isolated one. Last week, another Kosovo prison fugitive was shot dead in the same region. Police denied involvement, saying Xhavid Morina was killed in a skirmish between rival criminal gangs.

Official findings wrapped up, six deaths confirmed

An official report, issued by deputy prosecutor general and investigative judge, confirmed the death of six people during Wednesday's operation "Mountain Storm".

Makfax's correspondent in Tetovo quotes the investigative officials as saying that one of the bodies, blown-up by hand bomb explosion is presumed to be the body of escaped fugitive Ramadan Shiiti.

The bodies were transported to Skopje's funeral enterprise Butel to undergo official identification. The bodies will undergo an autopsy.

Four of the bodies were found near a mosque in Brodec, whilst two other bodies were found at a site near the village on the road to Veshala.

Police uncovered large quantity of weapons. The gunmen used all types of weapons - trench mortars and light infantry weapons.

Deputy prosecutor and investigative judge confirmed that there were no casualties among police force.

Unofficial reports say 12-15 suspects have been detained so far. The extremist criminal gang included members from Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo.

New Albanian Military Unit Takes Credit for Action in Macedonia

B92 reports an Albanian group that now calls itself the Political-Military Council of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) has taken credit for the gun battle yesterday with Macedonian police in three villages near the Sara Mountains near Tetovo. In their internet statement, the unit said it was formerly the "Albanian Territory Liberation Army" and has now been forced to form a regular military unit in order to protect what it called the "endangered Albanian people and every inch of Albanian territory." That of course involves more than just Kosovo in Serbia but also parts of Macedonia, Greece and perhaps also Bulgaria. The statement described yesterday's firefight as being in "defense of national honor" and called the police response "an attack by Macedonian-Slav authorities on the Albanian people." [B92]

The group also expressed their view of the negotiations over Kosovo that have been conducted for more than a year. "We consider all Slav-Albanian agreements emanating from the wars in Kosovo and Albanian territory, as well as the participants, null and void." The group is based in Tetovo and ended its statement with this ominous warning. "There can be no stable political or military solution, peace or stability in the turbulent Balkans without respect and implementation of a decision taken at a conference in Bujan for self-determination (Kosovo and unification with Albania) and for institution of a military oath for all three liberation armies- Kosovo, Eastern Kosovo (Presevo, Bujanovac, Medveda) and Macedonia."

The last thing NATO and the European Union (EU) need is for countless, well armed Albanian liberation units emerging as Islamic units have been doing in Iraq with direct support from Tehran, which is why I suspect this new group's statement was written in Tehran, especially the statement mentioning the "turbulent Balkans". That is exactly what Tehran wants to see chaos in the region engulfing every unit the West sends to restore stability and the silencing of Vienna in the process ending the UN agency's investigation into Iran's nuclear weapons program. Tehran is supporting-arming the most disenfranchised powerless people in the region with a national identity, the Albanian, which makes them the most hateful and therefore one of Iran's best weapons in the European continent. As always, Tehran is an expert at using availability and identifying with it. Iran wants the turbulence to spread beyond the Balkans.

Kosovo Liberation Army took responsibility for Sar Mountain conflict

The organization which calls itself Kosovo Liberation Army /KLA/ took the responsibility for the conflict with the members of the Macedonian special police forces, Serbian electronic edition Blic informs referring to the Albanian Kohan Ditore. In the release to the media this organization points out that they were forced to organize themselves into a regular military unit in order to protect the Albanian people and its territory.
Yesterday’s conflict in the region of Tetovo was said to be “protection of national dignity’ and the Macedonian police campaign – attack of the Macedonian – Slav authorities against the Albanian people. It is underlined that there would be no peace on the Balkans if the principles from the Bujanska Conference from December 31, 1943 were not put in practice.

Macedonia protests Greek bishop's call for a return of territory he claims is Greek

Macedonia on Thursday condemned a senior Greek churchman's claim that parts of the country belonged to neighboring Greece and should be returned.

Macedonia's Foreign Ministry voiced strong concern at a speech by Anthimos, the hardline Metropolitan Bishop of Thessaloniki, who said that "Macedonia is Greek ... and parts of it that are missing should be returned."

Greece and Macedonia are at odds over the Balkan country's name, which Athens says could imply claims on the northern Greek province of Macedonia.

A Foreign Ministry statement said it was "disturbing" to hear the bishop's "extremist speech."

Anthimos is the Church of Greece's top official in northern Greece, where sentiment runs high over the name dispute.

His comments came days after Greece and Macedonia held new U.N.-supervised talks on the name issue, which has poisoned bilateral relations since 1991, when Macedonia gained independence from the former Yugoslavia.

The Foreign Ministry said it expects Greek authorities "immediately and unequivocally to condemn such statements, which pose an indirect threat to the territorial integrity of the Republic of Macedonia."

In Athens, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said Thursday that the bishop's comments "do not, of course, express the (Greek) government, the people and political parties."

"Greece does not seek border changes," she said.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

At least one killed in police operation in Mount Shara

At least one member of criminal gang was killed in today's police operation in several villages abutting Shara Mountain, police sources told Makfax news agency.

The casualty is a citizen of Macedonia, who had escaped recently from a prison in Tetovo. He was member of criminal gang, led by Lirim Jakupi alias Nazi, a fugitive of the Kosovo's Dubrava prison.

In a statement for Makfax, police sources did not deny that there were other casualties among the criminal gang, but they could not confirm the news reports alleging seven casualties and a number of injured.

Makfax correspondent in Tetovo said no person with gunshot wounds was admitted to local hospitals.

The correspondent said the police shut down the roads from Tetovo to Popova Shapka's villages Brodec, Veshala, Vejce...

Macedonia battles gunmen in Albanian region; 6 dead

Macedonian police killed six members of what it called a criminal group on Wednesday during heavy clashes in hills above the mainly ethnic Albanian town of Tetovo, centre of a 2001 guerrilla insurgency.

Special police units backed by helicopters battled gunmen in the village of Brodec in the Shar mountain region after a dawn raid to round up a group led by an ethnic Albanian fugitive from a Kosovo prison.

The operation followed a warning from the Macedonian government last week of the possible "political exploitation" of criminal elements as Albanian tensions rise over neighbouring Kosovo's stalled bid for independence from Serbia.

"The interior ministry successfully completed operation 'Mountain Storm' to eliminate an extremist criminal group," Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska told a news conference.

Jankulovska said that according to preliminary information, four gunmen were killed. A senior police source told Reuters later that six were dead. Six people were arrested.

"We are sending a clear message to all criminal groups that they will end the same way," said Jankulovska.

A spokesman for the NATO peace force in Kosovo told a news conference a Macedonian helicopter had crashed during the fighting, but Jankulovska said the information was wrong.

The fighting, in which police sealed roads and conducted a house-to-house search, was the worst in the Tetovo region since 2001, when ethnic Albanian guerrillas battled government forces for greater rights for Macedonia's 25-percent Albanian minority.

NATO and the European Union brokered a deal to end the insurgency, but relations between Skopje authorities and the Albanian minority have soured since the main ex-guerrilla faction was left out of the ruling coalition last year.

The Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), led by former guerrilla commander Ali Ahmeti, said the government was trying to deflect attention from a decision by the European Union this week that said Skopje was still not ready for accession talks.

"Albanians are again collateral damage of the government's failings," said DUI spokeswoman Ermira Mehmeti.

Diplomats fear a standoff between the West and Russia over the demand of Kosovo's Albanian majority for independence from Serbia, eight years after NATO bombs drove out Serb forces, could spark unrest in Kosovo and Macedonia.

Faced with Serb and Russian opposition, Kosovo Albanians have threatened to declare independence once a deadline for negotiations to end expires on Dec. 10.

At least seven Albanians killed in police operation to try to recapture rebel fighter

SPECIAL police units backed up by helicopters killed at least seven Albanians yesterday in a major operation in Macedonia aimed at recapturing a former rebel fighter who escaped from prison in neighbouring Kosovo.

The operation was the largest of its kind since Macedonia faced seven months of ethnic conflict and near civil war in 2001.

The interior ministry said the action lasted all day, in and around the village of Brodec, north-west of the Albanian-dominated city of Tetovo.

The aim was to capture Lirim Jakupi, a former member of the outlawed Albanian National Army, who escaped in August from Dubrava prison in western Kosovo, where he had been serving a 15-year sentence for armed violence.

After yesterday's initial assault, armed Albanian gang members fled into surrounding fields and woods, where fighting continued. Witnesses in Brodec said at least four houses were on fire late yesterday.

Macedonian officials said between seven and ten Albanians had been killed, with no casualties on the Macedonian side.

NATO's peacekeeping force in Kosovo, K-FOR, said a Macedonian helicopter had crashed during the operation, but Macedonian officials denied this.

The border area of Kosovo and Macedonia has been tense since the summer, after a series of shootings involving Albanian criminal gangs, who are reported to have taken refuge in villages in the area. K-FOR said patrols had been stepped up on its side of the border in an attempt to prevent violence spilling over into Kosovo, which goes to the polls next weekend in the run-up to a possible declaration of independence in early December.

Police launch major operation in Tetovo area

Police special units launched a major operation Wednesday morning in the village of Brodec, Shara Mountain, amid a skirmish with gunmen.

In a statement for Makfax news agency, police source could not confirm or deny the shooting spree in Tetovo area.

Shooting is underway in the village of Brodec and the locals cannot leave the village that has been sealed by police, Makfax said, citing statements by local residents in the mountainous village of Brodec.

A number of special police forces and armored personnel transporters were dispatched in the village of Brodec.

According to unofficial sources, the police operation is aimed at arresting a group of gunmen led by Lirim Jakupi, a fugitive who had escaped recently from Kosovo's Dubrava prison.

Situation in Tetovo is dramatic, DUI’s leadership is in session

Judging by the news I have had from the media, I can say that the situation in Tetovo is now dramatic, but I would like to personally find out about it, Teuta Arifi, deputy chairperson of the Democratic Union for Integration announced. Arifi noted that a sitting of the leadership of the DUI has started, where Wednesday’s police operation will start.

Macedonian police carried out campaign in Sar Mountain

Macedonian police evaluates its campaign in the Sar Mountain as a successful one. The official name of the campaign was ‘Planinska Burja’ (‘Mountain Storm’). It was directed against the extremist criminal groups, against the terrorists in other words, Aleksander Damovski, director of Skopje paper Vreme, said on the phone for FOCUS News Agency.
The campaign has ended. Seven people are killed, all of whom from the extremist criminal groups. There are no victims from the Macedonian forces which took part in the operation. A great amount of guns was confiscated. The strengthened police presence continues in the region of Sar Mountain and the village of Brodec, Damovski declared.

Eight Albanians dead in clash with Macedonian police

The group was thought to be headed by Ramadan Shitij and Lirim Jakupi, a.k.a. Nazi, who escaped from Dubrava prison in Kosovo a few months ago.

The showdown took place in the villages of Brodec, Vesala and Vejce, near Tetovo, spokesman of the Macedonian Police Ivo Kotevski stated.

All police officers who took part in the operation escaped unharmed, it was also confirmed.

"The criminal group has been defeated," said Kotevski, adding that the police units are still in the increasingly volatile area, MIA news agency reported.

Five people were arrested, among them Habit Ahmeti, one of the leaders of the group Macedonia says is criminal. Heavy weapons and ammunition were also confiscated.

Police will now process the scene, and will later allow reporters to access the area.

Meanwhile, KFOR has increased its troop level on the Kosovo side of the border since the start of the Macedonian MUP operation early this morning.

The issue of a Macedonian helicopter allegedly shot down during the clashes remains unclear. While authorities in Skopje deny the reports, KFOR claims that a helicopter did go down in the area, but that it does not belong to the NATO forces in the province.

Security services claim that the Jakupi group was allowed to escape from prison with the help of "certain structures", in order to destabilize the region "should the Kosovo negotiations go in a direction these structures do not favor."

Jakupi is wanted in Macedonia for launching a rocket at a police station, killing a cab driver, and wounding three officers, as well as for putting the village of Volkovo under siege and threatening to "bomb Skopje".

Macedonian police kill eight armed men in raid

At least eight armed men were killed during an exchange of fire with police on Wednesday during an operation against fugitives in western Macedonia, news reaching here from Skopje said.

"The criminal group has been broken up, and no policemen were injured in the operation," said an Interior Ministry spokesman, Ivo Kotevski.

The operation, launched in the early hours of the morning, was against a criminal group led by a man named Lirim Jakupi, who escaped from a high- security prison in western Kosovo more than two months ago.

The spokesman said the group was holed up in the mountain village of Brodec near the mainly Albanian-populated city of Tetovo, about 40 km west of the capital Skopje.

He said the operation was still ongoing, with checkpoints set up on access roads and police helicopters hovering over the area.

Lirim Jakupi, alias "Nazi," fled to Kosovo province two years ago after a shootout with Macedonian police in Tetovo and was arrested by United Nations forces in the province.

He was a member of the underground Albanian National Army and was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being tried in absentia in Serbia.

Papariga urges shift from 1992 policy on FYROM

Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga on Wednesday called on the government to "disengage" itself from the Council of Political Party Leaders decision of 1992 and agree with FYROM on a name for the neighbouring country containing the word "Macedonia" in an exclusively geographical context.

Papariga made the statements to the press after a 45-minute meeting with prime minister Costas Karamanlis, saying that she had put forward three matters.

The first matter was that: Any name agreed for FYROM could contain the word "Macedonia" in an exclusively geographical context, at the same time safeguarding Greece from any irredentist intent on the part of Skopje, noting that "there is nothing in our country that FYROM can set claim to".

The second matter was that: 2007 has many differences with respect to 1992, since 1992 was the beginning of the drama in the Balkans, while today the EU and the US have established themselves in the region, and so has Russia, with its interventions on the pipelines.

The government, she continued, must clarify its position and take a stance against Kosovo independence, because possible independence of Kosovo could lead to destabilisation.

She also stressed that the creation of a "second US protectorate in the region" must be averted, warning that in such an eventuality, and because lack of a delineated border between Kosovo and FYROM "could lead to (the creation of) a second Albanian state".

Regarding the Greek business presence in Skopje, Papariga said that the companies were not bridges of friendship, but "go there for profit". The bridge of friendship is the peoples, she said, and described the Kosovo issue as critical also for Greek-FYROM relations.

The third matter, the KKE leader continued, was that she called on the government to react immediately to statements by Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki "who said we should go into Skopje and take land".

Also, Papariga said, the KKE rejects the "chauvinistic propaganda of LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally party) and the cosmoplitan theories of SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left party)".

Replying to press questions, Papariga said that her party was not recommending any specific name. The KKE, she explained, was purely in favour of a geographical determination in FYROM's name.

To another question on provocations by FYROM such as the renaming of the Skopje airport into "Alexander the Great Airport", Papariga said that such matters should be "left to the historians, because such issues cannot enter into the diplomatic relations between countries".

Regarding the prospects for solution being found to the FYROM name issue, the KKE leader said that "things don't appear to be easy", adding that the FYROM leadership "is not even discussing" the problem, and "has strong backing".

UK stands behind Athens on FYROM

Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Milliband yesterday appeared to support Greek concerns on the Macedonia name dispute, as a European Commission report called on Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to make fresh efforts to reach a compromise.

“We understand Greece’s sensitivities on the name issue and it is very important that a solution is found that respects Greek concerns,” Milliband said following talks with his Greek counterpart Dora Bakoyannis in London. Referring to the possibility of Athens vetoing FYROM’s bid to join NATO if the name dispute remains unresolved, Milliband said Greece would be justified in exercising its rights as a member of the alliance.

Bakoyannis expressed satisfaction on Milliband’s stance and his assertion that Britain supported a July 2006 agreement between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, which Ankara has failed to honor.

In Athens, Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said the EC’s report on candidate Turkey “made satisfactory references to all issues of particular interest to Greece,” including the rights of Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios and Turkish air-space violations in the Aegean.

The EC also issued a critical report on FYROM, saying it had failed to push reforms and curb corruption. It also called for a more constructive approach to resolving the name dispute.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Top 10 Reasons why Alexander the Great was Great!

Excellent and entrataining post on the Greatness of Alexander the Great!

Croatia Stands Chance Of Making EU Membership By Decade's End; Turkey, Macedonia Further Behind

While Croatia, Turkey and Macedonia are all candidates for membership in the European Union, only Croatia has a realistic chance of becoming a member nation before the end of the decade, an EU report says.

However, Croatia has work to do to meet membership conditions even then. It must still do more to reform its judiciary system and to eliminate corruption. It also must find a way to allow the safe return of Serbs who fled the country after its 1991-95 civil war, the Press Association reported Monday.

Since 2004, the EU has grown from 15 to 27 member states. Along with the three current candidate states another four countries - Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia - hope to become candidates within the next two years.

In addition to those four, all the other Western Balkan states - Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia including Kosovo - are potential candidate countries under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. That is provided they fulfill the accession criteria, according to a statement on the EU website.

And it's meeting the accession criteria that is holding up Turkey's membership. While Macedonia became a candidate nation so recently that negotiations on its accession requirements haven't begun, the EU statement says.

Among tasks Turkey has yet to accomplish is doing more to protect freedom of speech, putting civilians in charge of its military, making sure that non-Muslim citizen's rights are protected, protecting women and children and strengthening trade union rights, according to Press Association reports.

Another big problem holding Turkey back from achieving EU membership is its refusal to trade freely with EU member Cyprus, Agency France Press reports.

However, Turkey did begin implementing some political reforms this year.

To become a member country of the European Union candidate nations must achieved certain goals. According to the EU website, those criteria are:

  • stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union;
  • the ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic & monetary union.

Each country is evaluated when they apply for membership. Then the EU sets specific conditions for meeting those criteria, which is the process called accession negotiation.

Macedonia will not change name to end dispute with Greece, president says

Macedonia's president insisted Monday that his country would not change its official name under a U.N.-led effort to end a long-running dispute with Greece.

Branko Crvenkovski said the small Balkan country was determined to keep calling itself the Republic of Macedonia in its relations with the international community. Greece has threatened to veto Macedonia's bids to join NATO and the EU unless the name is changed.

"There is a national consensus on Macedonia's name," a statement from Crvenkovski's press office said. "(Macedonia's) leadership enjoys full support from the people, and all political parties ... to preserve (its name)."

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said Macedonia would ignore the veto threat by NATO and EU member Greece.

"Macedonia is prepared even to sacrifice its membership of NATO if the (alternative) is to change its constitutional name," he said.

Most countries recognize Macedonia by that name, which Athens says could imply claims on the Greek northern province of Macedonia.

NATO is expected to discuss the Macedonian application next April.

Late Monday, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said Macedonia's entry into the EU and NATO would be blocked if no compromise is reached over the name.

"Geographically, Macedonia is a broad region, more than half of which belongs to Greece. Today, more than 2.5 million Greeks consider themselves proud Macedonians," Bakoyannis said on a visit to London. "(Macedonia's) route to the EU and NATO is a one-way road: a mutually accepted solution."

She added: "This is not an emotional or psychological issue, but a question of good neighborliness."

But the hardline leader of Greece's Orthodox church in northern Greece stepped up his opposition to Macedonia, adding claims that parts of the former Yugoslav Republic should belong to Greece.

"Macedonia is Greek ... and parts of it that are missing should be returned," Metropolitan Bishop of Thessaloniki said.

Fersped assets freezing orders lifted

Macedonian Court of Appeals has overturned a Skopje District Court's interim asset freezing orders against Fersped AD Skopje.

Appeals Court, according to statement released by Fersped early on Monday, reversed the lower-court decision to freeze the assets of Fersped company, saying it was ungrounded.

District Court Skopje 2 made the interim asset freezing orders in relation to certain property of Fersped to help the probe into legality of privatization of Fersped.

Athens silent over Nimetz’ proposal

Skopje. Athens is still silent over the suggestion made by the Mathew Nimetz, UN special envoy on the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece, the Macedonian A1 TV informs.
According to the TV channel Greece has also untraditionally remained silent over Skopje’s denial, at the suggestion of Mathew Nimetz, for Macedonia to use for international purposes a name different than its constitutional one.
“The state’s leadership and the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia not only has the right, but they also have the strength to fight for their national right to use the constitutional name of their country”, Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Antonio Milisoski stated.
Macedonian state’s leadership is starting tomorrow the preparation of a strategy to fights that “striking proposal”, A1 comments.

New round of Skopje-Athens: Nimetz presents no new proposal for Macedonia's name

Matthew Nimetz, UN mediator in Skopje-Athens dispute over Macedonia's name, presented Thursday in New York no new proposal for the name, but only suggestions about how the talks should be run, BBC - Macedonian language program reported. - The mediator offered some suggestions, but not a proposal for a concrete name. He presented his opinion on how the talks should be organized to lead to a solution, as well as some elements on the solution itself. Some of those elements are compatible with our (Macedonia's) position, some not. He expressed readiness to visit the region, the capitals of both countries, and to meet the leadership of the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece, Macedonian negotiator Nikola Dimitrov said after today's new round of negotiations.

Nimetz told BBC that he urged both parties to consider all possibilities so that a solution to the dispute could be found within a reasonable time frame.

- I believe a solution to an issue that divides two neighbouring countries is very much in the interests of both parties and would also greatly contribute to regional peace and security. In an effort to assist the parties in this process I respectfully made some suggestions in the form of a draft framework for their consideration as a basis for an honorable and fair resolution. I have urged Ambassadors Dimitrov and Vassilakis to bring these suggestions to their Governments for study. These negotiations under the Secretary-General's auspices will continue in an effort to reach a resolution. I have indicated a willingness to go to Athens and Skopje in the near future to consult with the two Governments more intensively. Both Ambassador Dimitrov and Ambassador Vassilakis will discuss such a mission with their Governments, Nimetz said.

Earlier, Macedonia's top officials said the country's position on the matter would be reiterated at the new round of negotiations, namely the double formula - one name which will be agreed for bilateral communication with Greece and the constitutional name for the rest of the world.

Preservation of the right of the constitutional name and its international usage is fundamental pillar of identity and dignity of the nation, Macedonian top officials assessed at the meeting prior to the meeting of the officials of the two countries Nikola Dimitrov and Adamantios Vassilakis at the UN HQ.

For the last few days Greek authorities said in several occasions that there was a possibility for Athens to accept a complex name that would include the word 'Macedonia'.

For 17 years Greece has been denying Macedonia's right of its constitutional name, saying that it could imply territorial aspirations to the Greek province that bears the same name.

Due to Greek objections, Macedonia entered the UN in 1993 under the provisional name, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM, pending a resolution. Afterwards, Macedonia and Greece were asked to launch talks for ironing the differences over the name, which was done initially under the aegis of Syrus Vence, and afterwards - Matthew Nimetz. The negotiations in New York are still underway. For the last few years, some formal, informal proposals have been presented, which were not acceptable for the one or other party.

So far, Macedonia has established diplomatic ties with more than 160 countries. A total of 120 countries have already recognized Macedonia under its constitutional name, including three permanent UN Security Council members - the United States, Russia and China.

Ali Krasnici is still not questioned by police about gunfight in Tetovo village

Ali Krasnici was the one wounded in the gunfight in the village of Tetovo, Odrin, last week, and is now in the Clinic for Stomach Surgery in Skopje for treatment, the Director of the clinic confirmed today, the Macedonian newspaper Dnevnik writes today. In the gunfight Dzavid Morina who had escaped from the Kosovo prison Doubrava was killed. It is still not clear why Krasnici was transferred from Tetovo to Skopje. His brother, Agim Krasnici, member of the Albanian Democratic Party, denied immediately after the incident that his brother was wounded in the gunfight. According to unofficial data Krasnici hasn’t been questioned yet by the police about the incident.

Heating companies to present stands on price hike

Heating companies Toplifikacija Skopje-Sever and Toplifikacija Bitola on Tuesday will present their stands on the decision by Regulatory Commission to raise the price of steam-heating.

On Monday, the Regulatory Commission authorized an 18.61% hike of heating price in Skopje Sever and 32.8% in Bitola.

According to regulatory authority, price hikes will help the heating companies in Skopje Sever and in Bitola to cover the work-related expenses.

Greece donates hospital equipment to FYROM

SKOPJE (ANA-MPA/N. Frangopoulos) - Greece has donated hospital equipment to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) composed of four machines and an equal number of fully equipped ambulances to help meet health needs in the cities of Skopje, Tetovo and Bitola.

The amount of the donation reaches 300,000 euros and is part of the National Plan for Economic Reconstruction of the Balkans (NPERB).

FYROM Health Minister Imer Selmani thanked the Greek government for the donation during a relevant ceremony held in Skopje on Monday.

"This act by the government of Greece proves that health knows no borders and that the modernisation of the health systems of the countries in the region secures quality health services for the population," Selmani said.

The head of Greece's Liaison Office in FYROM, Alexandra Papadopoulou, said that the donation constitutes another contribution by Greece towards handling the needs of FYROM, particularly in such a sensitive sector as is citizens' health.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Macedonia to send more troops to Iraq

he Macedonian government has decided to send additional 36 soldiers to Iraq, bringing the country's troops on the ground to 80, news reaching here from Skopje reported on Friday.

"The decision reaffirms that Macedonia is a growing exporter of stability. As an NATO aspirant, we are pleased to show our solidarity with our Alliance partners," said Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki.

The decision will come into force after it is approved by parliament, where the government enjoys a firm majority. Macedonia also participates in the NATO-led International Security Force mission in Afghanistan, and the EU's peacekeeping force in Bosnia.

Macedonia is hoping to receive invitation to join NATO, along with Albania and Croatia next spring when the alliance holds its summit in Bucharest, capital of Romania.

However, its southern neighbor Greece has repeatedly threatened to veto Macedonia's NATO membership if a solution can't be found to the name dispute between the two countries by then.

Milososki reaffirmed his country's stand that there should not be linkage between Macedonia's NATO membership and its name dispute with Greece, hoping that Greece should put more attention to regional stability.

Greece has been opposed to the name of the Republic of Macedonia since the country broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Greece says the name of Macedonia implies a claim the tiny western Balkan country on the northern Greek province of Macedonia and could destabilize the region.

Instead, it asks Macedonia to use the name of "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" or FYROM in short, under which the country joined the U.N. in 1993.

A fresh round of U.N. mediated Greek-Macedonian talks over the name dispute were held in New York on Thursday, and U.N. mediator Matthew Nimitz has offered fresh ideas but no ultimate answer for solving the name issue between the two countries.

Macedonia supports independence for Kosovo, opposes partition

As the negotiations on Kosovo's status continue, the topic is being discussed across the region. Although the vast majority of the countries in Southeast Europe do not have much input on the future of the province, the final outcome will have regional repercussions.

Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski has always advocated a final status defined by the UN Security Council -- a stance many regional governments share. However, if a UN-determined status proves impossible to achieve, Macedonia will likely recognise an independent Kosovo.

One proposal that Macedonia strongly opposes is division of the province. Splitting Kosovo could have a direct impact on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Macedonia. The government fears it could fuel separatism among Albanians in the country, which endured a serious ethnic conflict in 2001.

Many countries in the region, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, have similar concerns. If a precedent for dividing territories and countries is set, it might prove difficult for the international community to stop in the future.

"Kosovo must not be divided, taking into consideration that such a decision is only possible along ethnic lines, and that would mean encouraging many radical structures that exist in the whole region. We can not underestimate the risks that could arise from the eventual decision," Crvenkovski said.

Since the end of the 2001 conflict, Macedonia has struggled to build a functional, multiethnic state and demonstrate that its two main ethnic groups can co-exist.

The majority of Macedonians feel that Kosovo's independence will bring peace and stability to the region -- finally settling the borders in Southeast Europe. It also offers the prospect of improved economic ties and opportunity.

Macedonia currently exports most of its manufactured goods to Kosovo -- about 100m euros worth annually. But the province's unresolved status is a barrier for Macedonian companies who want to trade or invest there. It also poses a hurdle for international corporations.