Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Macedonian Tortured in Tetovo Village, As Gang War Rages

SKOPJE – A Macedonian reserve policeman, Duko Simonovski, was found in Shemshevo village, late on the night of 15 April. Kidnapped by local Albanians on Saturday, Simonovski was in critical condition after being tortured and physically abused. He was discovered by an OSCE patrol, according to the Macedonian government. At time of going to press, the OSCE office in Skopje had no further information on the case.

Shemshevo, ethnically mixed until last summer, was one of the many villages afflicted by NLA kidnappings. During the war, NLA-sponsored terrorism forced the Macedonian inhabitants of Shemshevo to flee their homes. They have yet to return.

Violence against Macedonians continues. A MakPetrol gas station in Tetovo was robbed on Monday, and vehicles have been stoned while trying to leave the city. A toll booth on the Tetovo-Gostivar road was also robbed and destroyed on Monday morning. According to government sources, armed and uniformed Albanians recently harassed Macedonian drivers at an impromptu "checkpoint" set up near the Tetovo village of Poroj. Such incidents show that the ongoing redeployment of police in the crisis region is doing little to stop ethnically-motivated intimidation of Macedonians.

Meanwhile, street warfare between rival Albanian factions continued in Tetovo and surrounding villages through the night, the Macedonian Information Agency reported. Heavy weapons fire was reported at six points in downtown Tetovo, including the new Southeast-Europe University (SEE) – a project financed by the EU. Violence extended into early Tuesday morning in the nearby villages of Tearce and Poroj. What is being described as a "turf war" has caused millions of dollars in property damage, and called into question the credibility of Albanian "freedom fighters," who have claimed that their war is for increased rights. The current violence in Tetovo belies that assertion.

For weeks, warfare between dueling factions of the Albanian militant organization, NLA and ANA, has engulfed this ethnically-mixed city in western Macedonia. While the exact reasons are unclear, informed sources claim the fighting revolves around war profits that have "disappeared" among Albanians in Kosovo and in the European diaspora. The infighting has also taken on political overtones. The headquarters of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) was recently attacked, and a restaurant and café owned by Menduh Thaci – the DPA's powerful vice-president – was bombed. High leaders of the DPA and their colleagues – including Thaci and NLA chief Ali Ahmeti – were said to have been the targets of the attack. Their security staff went on high alert, with Thaci's bodyguards gunning down a vehicle passing the restaurant only days later.

The past week has seen sporadic fighting in Tetovo and five nearby villages. Sunday's shootout in Shipkovica, which caused the hospitalization of a 29 year-old man, shows that the ANA is taking the war to the enemy. Shipkovica is a stronghold of Ahmeti and the NLA. The more radical ANA has accused Ahmeti of "selling out the Albanian people," a reference to the compromise negotiations made last summer with the Framework Agreement at Ochrid. The generous concessions made at that time were widely regarded as a big victory for the NLA. The recent Albanian infighting shows that the NLA may have enjoyed too much of a good thing.

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