Saturday, November 10, 2007

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.

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