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Was there a war in Macedonia?

The conflict in 2001 between the Macedonians and the Albanians remained one of the biggest enigmas in the recent Macedonian history. Even today, five years from its outbreak and end, round tables and tribunes are being held, where still the answer to the question: what really happened in 2001 is searched. Who stood behind the Albanian armed rebellion? Was it imported or domestic and what was the real goal? Was it a war for human rights or for territories? Was it a rebellion, uprising, war or a conflict? And finally, can violence be used as a legitimate method for the realization of political goals? The conflict ended with the Framework Agreement, which though a constitutional warning earned the Macedonian Albanian community rights that no other smaller ethnical community in the European countries have.

With the statements of domestic and foreign direct and indirect actors in the conflict, in this news article we will try to clarify this most dark period since the Macedonian independence and we will try to at least give answers to the questions raised…
„The village of Tanushevci, 16.2.2001 – there was direct shooting between ARM members and four NLA members; the same day at about 15:55 in the forest, 150 meters from the old shop, two more armed people were seen raising a tent. The border security tried to identify them, however the two armed people ran and opened fire to the border security from many positions from the forest. From our side there were no casualties nor injured, while one person was killed from their side. After the retreat of our patrol, on the opposite side five people in black uniforms were seen (Kosovo Defense Corps) who opened fire to our border guards…”
This report was put on the working table of the Chief of ARM General Staff, Jovan Andreeveski, the morning of February 17, 2001. No one expected this to be the introduction to a new, to put it mildly, uncertain chapter of Macedonia, with the epilog of 71 casualties from Macedonian and 76 casualties from Albanian side, demolished villages, mosques and churches in the crisis regions, displaced families… the Minister of Interior Affairs at that time, Dosta Dimovska, today says that even since November 200, they received warnings for big terrorist and criminal groups.
”We received such information and took measures for intensive security and increased presence of police in the border region. However, the border between Macedonia and Kosovo was guarded from only one side, the Macedonian side, while from the Kosovo side, the border was not guarded,” stated Dimovska in an article for the “Utrinski Vesnik” newspaper.
A problem was the undivided authorizations between the Armed forces and the Police. “The Armed forces then were authorized for guarding the border line, and the Police for area of 10 around the border line,” said Dimovska. “The armed conflict commenced with Tanushevci and its occupation by armed terrorist groups and keeping hostage of the civilian population. The first actions of the police and the armed forces were against these terrorist groups. Soon the penetration of Kosovo terrorist groups was intensified, and the Albanian population soon started joining these terrorist groups,” says Dimovska.
The attacks on the police station in Tearce on January 22, 2001 and on the passenger train from Skopje to Kichevo on January 26, 2001, the first signals of violence which threatened Macedonia appeared. In this assault the police officer Momir Stojanovski from Kriva Palanka lost his life, while three police officers were wounded. The assault was executed by the people who after the shooting ran away with a vehicle towards Kosovo. The so called National Liberation Army (NLA) took responsibility for the two incidents.
These was seeming calmness and serenity among the government officials, however the foreign and domestic press wrote about the possibility of military crisis in Macedonia. The village of Tanushevci was mentioned as one of the critical places.

The story of A1 TV Station
For the citizens in Tanushevci, the closest shopping malls, the stores and petrol stations are in Kosovo, not in Macedonia. When the Serbian and Macedonian government reached an agreement on the border status, the population of the Albanian villages from both sides of the border strongly opposed. For many years people crossed the border, many of whom without appropriate traveling documents. It is believed that the agreement on the border initiated the first intrusion on the Kosovo-Macedonian border in February 2001.
On February 16, a team from A1 TV station went to investigate the speculations about Tanushevci and fell into the hands of NLA. The opposition party SDSM felt that this event was deliberately staged to take the attention off of the “tapping of politicians and news reporters” scandal and the required resignation by the Minister of Interior, Dosta Dimovska.
”What we believe to be a coincidence should probably make everyone in the State think, because with each big scandal by the Government, each political crises, such as the resignation by Dosta Dimivska now, the pillar of the inter-ethnic relations is used to hide the big scandals,” stated Vlado Buchkovski, then a spokes person of SDSM.
Towards the end of February, the village of Tanushevci was under siege for days by the armed Albanian paramilitary forces. The Government, however, decided to act in a “diplomatic” way.
“Getting near the houses to register if there are people, means at the same time acceptance of the armed conflict, and this is according to me the intent of this armed group. But we do not want to fall for this,” stated the Minister of Defense of that time, Ljuben Paunovski.
Pande Petrovski, the latter Chief of the General Staff of the Macedonian Armed Forces, in his witness of the war in the article by “Utrinski Vesnik” news paper stated:
“Since the very beginning it was practically a war. It was an aggression by a foreign state on our territory. The first actions which occurred in the area of Tanushevci and Malino Maalo were by fighters or members of the Kosovo Defense Corps which crossed our border and entered our territory. There were 25 people from the Kosovo Defense Corps and five people from the village of Tanushevci.”

Missed assessment by Trajan Gocevski
In the beginning the Macedonian Government reacted with underestimation, proclaiming NLA for inexistent phantom organization. During the first days of the attacks, the Prime Minister Ljupcho Georgievski announced: “We indeed feel and the assessment is that the situation in the State is stable. I will only remind that there are many States in the World where terrorist incident occur, and no one says that those countries are instable.”
The biggest mistake in the assessment of the situation was made by the at that time member of the National Security Council, PhD. Trajan Gocevski, who said: “My personal assessment is that currently Macedonia and its national security are in no way directly threatened. Within the State I believe that the institutions function on a satisfactory level. Certain appearances in Macedonia occur, which are not wanted at all, however if we take into consideration the latest announcements by the government organs, I feel that they are in a position where they control this situation.”
And while the government was completely disoriented, wondering what befall upon the state, NLA was slowly forming a corridor through which the foreign reporters easily reached their leaders, giving to the World the one-sided truth about the conflict between the Macedonians and the Albanians. The incapability of the Macedonian Government to handle the NLA threats was the first indicator that NLA was a lot stronger then what it was thought. It had five brigades which performed operations in Kumanovo (113 brigade), Skopje (114 brigade), the Tetovo region (112 brigade) and the areas around Gostivar (116 brigade) and Radusha (115).
According to Ahmeti, there were around 5 thousand members of NLA during the crises, however according to the foreign and domestic military analysis it counted not more than 2-3 thousand members, while the brigades were recognized and enumerated before the end of the conflict in the second half of 2001.
“We could not avoid the conflict with the Albanians from Kosovo who interacted with the Albanians who had settled in the Kumanovo-Tetovo villages near the border from 1981 and on,” says Professor Ljubomir Frchkovski who at that time was advisor to the President Boris Trajkovski.
“When the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) ended its part with the tension in Southern Serbia, they simply oriented themselves towards entering Macedonia, because those were groups who did not think of disarming themselves and who made business of the war. From the NLA communiqués it could have been deducted that it was a war with racist program, a war for territories and a war against the Slavic population, and later it transformed itself into a war for rights,” witnesses Frchkovski.

Moujahedines in NLA
Among the NLA there were those who called themselves “dogs of war”, who already had experience fighting in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. The greater part, however, were Kosovo people, former or at that time current members of the Kosovo Defense Corps, who were already trained and armed by foreign trainers during the NATO war against the regime of Slobodan Miloshevich. A group of moujahedines were a part of the forces, which fought for money in the Balkan wars in the period after the fall of Yugoslavia. The members of those groups were responsible for the greatest number of murders of the members of the Macedonian armed forces. Jezair Shakiri, known as commander Hodza or Dzeza, claimed that Ali Ahmeti in 1999 believed that the war operations in Macedonia will be possible in 2003 or 2003 at the earliest. Shakiri, who led the group which seized Tanushevci in February 2001 and who later was a commander in the KLA operations in Arachinovo in June 2001, claimed that Ahmeti had made that assessment upon the entrance of KFOR in Kosovo. Some of the leaders of NDP (Kastriot Hadziredza) were in close contact with the NLA core even before the conflict in Macedonia. They stimulated the meetings in Kosovo and Macedonia in the beginning of March 2001, where the Tetovo Old Fortress activities were discussed and agreed upon. They claim that if the public finds out the details of these meetings, the idea of who is who in the former NLA will be drastically changed. Fazli Veliu was a leader of the Kosovo National Movement, and one of the financiers of NLA and of other Albanian organizations. He is the uncle of Ali Ahmeti and they are both born in the Kichevo area. Fazli Veliu was in prison in Germany, where he waited to be extradited in Macedonia. On March 13, 2000, the Former Political Prisoners Organization gathered signatures in Macedonia, which were to be sent in the German embassy, protesting against the hand over of Veliu. The petition was signed by 20 members of parliament from the Albanian political parties. The Minister of Justice, Dzevdet Nasufu withdrew and chose not to activate the arrest warrant (the request) for the extradition of Velui and he was released from the prison in Germany. These reports give support to the speculations about the relations which existed before 2001 between the NLA and the Albanian political parties in Macedonia. It is believed that the NLA recruitment was enlarged from May mainly because of the military intervention of the Macedonian government and because of NLA self confidence, its success and the occupation of territory.
Hisni Shakiri, Member of Parliament from DPA, who became member of NLA, today says that his first meetings with NLA occurred in the beginning of March, 2001. “At that time NLA was already acting in the Karadak region”, narrates Shakiri today. “The meetings became more frequent in the middle of March in the time when NLA’s structures started appearing in uniforms in the bigger villages in the Lipkovo region”, told Veliu for the “Utrinski Vesnik” newspaper.

Shakiri’s Story
“In the middle of March, the situation worsened greatly. There was panic among the civilian population (the Albanians) due to the withdrawal of NLA from the Tetovo Old Fortress on March 24. This increased the insecurity with the Albanian population. This was in the period when there was great movement and I, as a member of parliament, took the obligation to join the NLA in order to give them political support, to encourage the population not to leave their homes and to inform the domestic and international public that the problem is internal and is not taken from abroad. Thus, on March 27, 2001 I informed all media that I am joining the NLA”, said Hisni Shakiri. “The fact that I joined NLA increased the moral among the young and a voluntarily mobilization commenced, which led to increased number of NLA soldiers. The population started feeling safer because now they were counting on a consolidated military force which would defend them from the possible attacks of the government forces. This created a favorable atmosphere and the population started thinking differently and they all decided to remain in their homes and to defend themselves together with NLA,” said Shakiri.
Shakiri claims that the good relations between the civilian Albanian population and the NLA contributed to the success of their military front. “The war was terrible and it took young lives every day” he says today. Two days after the attack in Tearce, NLA announced its program. “So far we the Albanians demanded our rights through a dialogue and in a peaceful manner by using the institutions, but they (the demands) were ignored.
The Macedonian authorities used state terror methods to answer to these peaceful demands, as was the case in Skopje, Ljubanishta, Tetovo, Gostivar and Kichevo. The Albanian-Macedonian dialogue that so far took place between anti-Albanian politicians the Macedonian authorities has no point. Successful negotiations with the Macedonians can be achieved only with international mediation. The National Liberation Army (NLA) is a force that will use weapons to fight until Macedonia becomes a constitutional Macedonian-Albanian State. We want to preserve Macedonia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We respect NATO and US interests, what we want in Macedonia is the rights that belong to us and we will fight until we get them” was stated in the proclamation.
Macedonia was viewed as the exception in the region for a long time and until 2001 was also considered the most successful country in regard to its integrity and cooperation with the EU and NATO. However, the international community started becoming more and more aware of the inter-ethnic tensions in Macedonia. The tense inter-ethnic climate explains the rapid escalation often conflict that jeopardized the country’s stability. There were fresh skirmishes in Tanushevci early in 2001 and the target was an ARM patrol which came under sniper fire twice. There were three casualties on March 4. An ARM vehicle that was driving towards the border post Tanushevci, municipality Ramno region, ran over an antitank mine, which killed Kirche Dimitrov and Dejan Jakimovski. Only fifteen minutes later and in the same region, Teodor Jakimovski - another ARM soldier was killed by sniper. However, the State officials still believed that diplomatic methods should be given priority.

Government Inaptitude
Why didn’t the Government react on time in order to prevent further spreading of the conflict, as the experts and the analysts advised? They (the experts and analysts) gave a timely warning that if the incidents are not isolated, the conflict will have to be resolved on a negotiating table. Dosta Dimovska, Minister of Interior at the time, looks back at the events that took place five years ago and states: “The non reformed security structure, the non existing coordination and the undetermined Government institution responsibilities created vacuum. That led to postponement of necessary action which had negative consequences. We were not properly equipped as a nation as well. We did not have military helicopters, did not have other equipment, warplanes war bought only after the conflict began. We did not even have specialized groups for handling such this type of terrorism. All of this made defense and rapid actions difficult. “
The opposition party SDSM at the time insisted that only with a fierce and direct military response in Tanushevci, Brest and Malino can the crisis be resolved. The Government still held back. The incidents and skirmishes in the Tanushevci region intensified.
Women and children started leaving the village of Goshince as well and sought cover at other places. They were running away from the village, which is near Kumanovo, and were mainly looking for cover in the village of Nikushtak (in the same region), the Chento neighborhood and the village of Arachinovo in the Skopje area. The Mayor of Arachinovo, Mr. Reshat Ferati, said that those are not refugees but guests that have arrived in the village because of the Islam holyday Bajram and are visiting their relatives.
Just when it was officially announced that the situation in Tanushevci is calming down, fierce clashes commenced in that region, the very next day on March 8. Goran Stojanovski, member of the Special MOI Unit was killed on March 9 in clashes around Brest. The police convoy had been dispatched from v. Goshince to v. Brest in order to hold talks with the local population and to distribute humanitarian aid, as well as to meet with the local leaders.
Conditions at the northern border were calm for several days with no skirmishes taking place. However, Macedonian police was around Malino Maalo, but not inside. Albanian terrorists were stationed inside it. The Government still held the position that an eventual armed action could further more radicalize inter-ethnic tensions in the country.
Towards the end of March 2001 the Macedonian Army started to shell the villages above Tetovo, and four days later the Government declared the action a success.
After that the NLA moved the conflict east of the Shar Planina (mountain) as well as north of Kumanovo, increasing by that the territory under its control. For many weeks the NLA occupied Albanian populated villages in the Kumanovo Valley in the northeast and around Tetovo and Gostivar in the west during several weeks.
Thousands of civilians were stuck between the Government Forces and the NLA. Macedonian Forces accused the NLA for using civilians as a live shield in order to prevent the Army to undertake a full scale offensive. NLA on the other hand dismissed those claims and insisted that the civilians do not trust the Macedonian authorities.
„It was a drama where we were all concerned and careful” says today Mrs. Dosta Dimovska. “None of us had war experience before. We didn’t think that Macedonia is going to have war and that we will have to face war situations, and we especially did not expect the penetration of terrorist groups in civilian p[populated areas and them using the civilian population as a life shied” witnesses Mrs. Dosta Dimovska in an “Utrinski Vesnik” daily newspaper article.

Shield of civilians
Using a Live wall of civilians has greatly aggravated defense and handling of terrorist groups. “Macedonia hasn’t had defense for that sort of terrorism. As opposed to us, the Army had such units but it wasted a lot of time arguing with the Government about the method of our defense”, says Dimovska today.
In mid March Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) extended its battle to Tetovo. After six days of combat in Tetovo, the Government finally declared ultimatum to the Albanian guerrillas to disarm and to leave the country or to face up full military intervention. The ultimatum was not met.MoI distributed weapons to the Army and Police reservists in Skopje, Gostivar, Tetovo, Kumanovo and surrounding villages. But KLA continued recruiting young people during the summer. It was perfectly clear that Macedonia is on the verge of civil war.
KLA gained ever-growing support from the local Albanian population. The occupation of Tanusevci, then Brest and Malino Maalo, generated ever more supporters and KLA members.As opposed to the government top that gave priority to the diplomatic methods in the beginning of crisis, the public demanded decisive and military resolution of the crisis.„Every wound is curable after early diagnosis. That means that the measures have to be timely, decisive and led by the masters in their trade. That means if we leave them to work undisturbed then that wound will continues to grow and it will be difficult to treat “, states the former Chief of ARM General Staff Mitre Arsovski.Dosta Dimovska, as a person that found herself in the most heated armchair during most turbulent times – Minister of Interior, from today’s perspective says that she didn’t expect that the conflict will gain such proportion. But after first successful action performed and liberation of large number of villages in Tetovo, there was a constant influx of new groups of rebels from Kosovo.
„Many places in the national border zone were used for that purpose, where previously a lot of weapons had been hidden“, explains Dimovska. „So the conflict developed and reached Skopje“.
The day when Tetovo exploded was 14 March – on the group rally organized by PDP political party and Albanian NGOs. There were 10 thousand Albanians on the meeting that chanted “KLA” and at the same time they were “greeted” by shots from the surrounding mountains and Tetovo fortress.
From that day onwards all illusions of the Macedonian government that Tanusevci is isolated incident of small group of extremists were blown away.
The shootings of the KLA forces lasted whole day. Dosta Dimovska, Minister of Interior, said that it is a matter of around 200 terrorists that immersed themselves into Tetovo area from Shara mountain.
That night the senior government had a meeting with the President Boris Trajkovski. “It is a matter of well-trained sabotage units.”, said the Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski.
At first there were noticeable differences in the positions for resolving the crisis, between the President Boris Trajkovski and the Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski. Trajkovski was more inclined for resolving the crisis with political instruments whilst Georgievski was for fierce military response.
„Whoever wants to instigate war in Macedonia needs to be aware that he will encounter strongest defense both from the Macedonian police and Army, and I have to say that we won’t choose allies in defending Macedonia “, said Georgievski.

Return of general Petrovski
General Pande Petrovski has back then returned from retirement and was appointed Deputy CHOD of the Macedonian Army and was tasked to lead the defense of the country after the attacks of Albanian guerrillas.
Vlado Popovski, member of the National Security Council, was the first to contact him, and arrange a meeting of the retired general and the top government in order to reactivate him and go into action against the rebels in Tetovo.
With regards to the meeting with the Prime Minister Georgievski, the general recounts:„I thought that he was intending to ask me for an advice, but after the discussion with the Prime Minister I understood that they need a man for resolution of the crisis with military instruments, as it is becoming for a country “, says Petrovski.
That very day Petrovski talked to the President as well. „I received all authority to establish an operational group of leaders out of those 500 retired in 2000 “, he said.„The third corps were disbanded, the second bitola corps were in a phase of disband, armored professional battalion disbanded, the border brigade in a phase of establishment. The only brigade existing was the First light infantry brigade in Stip“, recounts Petrovski in news article in „Утрински весник“.
„On the 21 March I reactivated myself and formed a team for planning of operation in Tetovo. I had five days to prepare for that operation“, he says.
However, some unexpected things happened.
„On the night of 23 March I waited till midnight to see the President and for him to sign the operation Plan. But he didn’t come “, says Petrovski. He went to see the defense Minister Ljuben Paunovski. „Minister, what are we doing, is the President coming?“, Petrovski asked.
„I’ll check“, replied Paunovski.
„After he checked he told me that the President is tired, because he came that night from a business trip and he won’t come but the next day, Saturday at noon, he will come to sign the decision for Tetovo operation “, recounts Petrovski.
„Tomorrow the units already occupied the positions of the whole location planned for that operation. I didn’t’ go to Tetovo that day but I had a contact with the commanders and we started with the actions“, he says.

Waiting for the President
Around 12 o’clock Petrovski called Vlado Popovski again.
He asked him: „Pande, where are you?“
„I am waiting for the President to sign for the operation“, Petrovski said.
„Can I see you for a minute“, Popovski asked.
„Yes, you can“, the general said.
„Vlado came, I told him to sit down, he said that he didn’t have time “, Petrovski recounts.
„Can you break up the terrorists“, Popovski asked.
„Damn it, Vlado, have you come to ask me that“, Petrovski siad. „Why is the President still not coming to sign the decision ?“.
„Well, that’s the problem, Vlado told me. Someone scared him in Geneva and now he is hiding, he doesn’t want to sign. Now me and Frckoski and few other MPs will go to convince him. But 12 o’clock passed and nothing happened. Ljupco Georgievski called me to ask where I was. I told him, here. He said – Come to see me. So I went and he wanted me to explain the whole plan once again “, Petrovski recounts. „I explained the plan in detail, by time and place, goal and method. But I felt that something is going on. I was about to engage into attack tomorrow, but something is not going well. I waited until 9 pm. Dosta Dimovska, Stojan Andov and others started coming. I thought, it’s Ok, something may come out of it “.
General Pande Petrovski recounts afterwards how the whole senior government, except President Trajkovski, gathered in the Defense Minister Cabinet.
„I went there also, everybody is present, having random chat and waiting for the President. Somewhere around 11 pm comes the Prime Minister. I see him, he sees me but I can tell from his face that he is in a good mood. He sits down, after 5-6 minutes Trajkovski comes in and gives me a dark look. Sits at his seat and tells me: 'Come on general, let’s see the plan once again '. I’ve laid down the map once again and started briefing on the operation for the fourth time that day. I finished and sat down. Everyone is quiet. Trajkovski asks how many victims there will be. How many on their side, how many on ours, etc. Stojan Andov says the plan is good, sign it! And all supported it. But Trajkovski keeps silent“.
„Midnight came. And tomorrow at 7 am I am about to move to attack. The commanders are awaiting. So I got up and told the President: Mr President, Listen to me! If you don’t intend to sign the decision, let’s go! It’s already too late. Tomorrow we cannot perform the operation! And then the President said: “Bring me the document“.
The President said the following words: „God help us and take care of us “. He crossed himself and signed the decision.I took the document and went out. They stayed. My people were waiting for me outside and I immediately left. I phoned the commanders and told them, we are acting upon the Plan tomorrow.
On 28 April near Tetovo village Vejce was the most horrible massacre in this war. From an ambush between Tetovo and Kosovo border, there were eight policemen and soldiers belonging to the special units of “Tigers” and “Wolves” killed and then massacred. The following were the policemen that were killed Marjan Bozinovski, Kire Kostadinovski, Bosko Najdovski and Ilce Stojanovski and soldiers Robert Petkovski, Boban Trajkovski, Mile Janeski and Igor Kosteski. The bloodshed further accentuated the conflict and caused ethnical chaos in Bitola, Veles and Skopje.
The massacre happened near Breza, more known as Vejacka Krivina, on the local road Selce - Vejce on the slopes of Shar Mountain, when they opened fire on two combat vehicles „hammer“ and two police „lada niva“ with total of 16 members of the patrol combined of army units „Wolves“ and police „Tigers“.

Horrible pictures
In addition to eight killed, there were six wounded. Branko Stojkovski, Jonce Dancev and Tose Krstevski from “the Wolves” and Goran Kolevski, Jovica Bozinovski and Zlatko Jankulovski from “the Tigers” received severe wounds.
After the killing, the band massacred the victims and then withdrew to the Shar Mountain villages and moved to the border zone, wherefrom it escaped into Kosovo.
he government spokesman Antonio Milososki described the crime as “horrifying massacre that demonstrates that Macedonian democracy is faced in combat with monsters, for which we have no choice, but to defeat them “.
The Minister of Interior Dosta Dimovska estimated that after this event the security of the country has significantly deteriorated.
The horrible pictures cause great revolt in Bitola, place where many of the killed came from, that climaxed into riots on the streets resulting in four wounded and 40 shops damaged, mostly of Muslim owners.
First speculations that emerged after the event were that the massacre was performed by Mujahadenis, and Daut Haradinai commanded the group – brother of the Kosovo politician Ramush Haradinai.
The eyewitnesses claimed that the crime was committed by a group of ten people with beards and long knives. The terrorists shot only one of the victims whilst the remaining seven were slaughtered in peaces or were burnt alive.
Daut Haradinai was a Chief of the Kosovo defense corps and it was easy to identify him because he was one-armed after losing his other arm in mine accident. His brother Ramush Haradinai is also under suspicion for responsibility of killing at least 50 Kosovo Serbs.
The ambush was set up on a very good location and the Macedonian Security Forces jeep was all drilled with grenades and machine gun fire from all sides.
Many evidence prove that the terrorists were informed about the movement of the combined police-military patrol by radio link. According to police sources, only few days after the horrible event, there was an attempt, for another ambush near the same place. However, the police found about it on time and broke up the terrorist group.
The police radio station „motorola“ was found on the place, which indicated that the terrorists have been in constant contact with some of the members of the Tetovo police all the time.

Hard moments
The director of the Public Security Agency of that time Zvonko Kashirski says today: „I was in Berovo when the Operational Centre in Skopje notified me that combined police-military patrol was ambushed near Vejce. First information was that there was only one wounded. I immediately set out for Skopje, but received information on the way that there is one killed, then they said two and at the end the number rose to eight “. He was notified about the event by the Minister of Interior Dosta Dimovska.
Speaking about that horrible event today, the former Minister of Interior Dosta Dimovska says: „ The director of the Public Security Kashirski briefed me about the case. For me Vejce was a tremendous shock. Regardless of the fact that we were serving at such high positions, first of all, we are humans and such situations require cold heads to finish the work. But those were very hard moments, we strived to investigate the whole case, to determine how all that happened. Yet that has not been cleared up and I hope that in the course of time this event will be completely cleared out“.
Daily newspaper „Vreme“ in December 2004 published that there was an official note in MoI that the Mayor of Tetovo Hazbi Lika, who was former Deputy Minister of Interiors, popular under the name of Commander Chela during the 2001 conflict, was one of the twenty participants in the Vejce massacre.
The police record, titled as „insight of the horrifying murder at the village of Vejce , Tetovo“, was registered under No. 470/13.11.2001, „Vreme“ wrote. According to the police record, as „Vreme“ states, the massacre was led by Ismaili Shinasi or known as Commander Hodza, Ceka Iljaz –Cori, and Ceka Bilal-Brada, all three from Kosovo. Ceka Iljaz was indebted with two million DM to pay out the foreign mercenaries from Western countries, Mujahedinis and volunteers from this country. Ceka Bilal, was member of the Kosovo intelligence service and one of the main organizers to supply KLA with arms.
From the “domestic” participants in the event, besides Hazbi Lika, Лика Иса-Илир, Самии Раим-Зогу, Самии Изаир-Шурли, Бајрами Асим-Пуча, Рифати Енвер-Џаџи, Абдурамани Исак, Велиу Муарем, Вејсели Екрем, Османи Фадил, Љуљзим Ислами, Емини Ибрахим, Џемаили Џават, Башким Рустеми-Кими, Османи Хајри, Хисен Џемаили, Емини Абаз и Емини Рамадан were also listed. Most of them were from Tetovo area and few from Vejce village.
Part of them were well trained as former members of KLA from Kosovo. Few days before the attack they were preparing themselves and did training in a camp in Kosovo that was very close to the Macedonian border. The sabotage-terrorist group had a specific task to eliminate live patrol force and to destroy the vehicles and military equipment. In cooperation with terrorist group from Tetovo, they have organized the ambush and performed the terrorist attack on the patrol of the Macedonian security forces, for which they had wide support from the local population too. After the attack some of them have found shelter in the villages of Vejce, Brodec and Bozovce and some have withdrawn to Kosovo, having mined the road of their withdrawal, the official MoI record stated according to „Vreme “.
During the 2001 conflict the national government acted under conditions of deep internal crisis. The Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Minister of Interior Ljube Boskoski requested declaration of state of war, but the international community and part of the government disagreed. The President Boris Trajkovski was exposed to strong criticism by all internal stakeholders in power whilst the international community used him to implement the peacekeeping plan. Professor Ljubomir Frckoski who was advisor of Trajkovski says today:
„There was a great discord between President Trajkovski, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski and Minister of Interior Ljube Boskoski. We had a problem coordinating the work. I believe that the main problem was not the indecisiveness of the President or his mentors. At the end he delivered the decisions“, Frckoski says.
Not only the security actions in Tetovo, but also in Kumanovo and Skopje were a problem, where the incapacity of our police was demonstrated.
„Then the system of lack of coordination emerged. We have to acknowledge that, not fool ourselves, because that is the reason we lost both lives and part of our political positions“, Frckoski says.
„I could never forgive the Macedonian part of the government for that lack of coordination which was paid by the lives of the Macedonian soldiers who were sitting targets for the bandits. That was horrible. The least informed and least victim was the President. I was a witness how that functioned and how bad it was. We had to create monumentality with articles in public.“, Frckoski says today.
The Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski was Defense Minister of that time as part of the Wide coalition government. Today he claims that at the beginning SDSM tried not to impede the government action against terrorist attacks.
„Though, he says, there was a long hesitation and tactics by the former government. An affair with the Defense Minister Ljuben Paunoski came to the surface and he was removed, so until establishment of the wide coalition government Defense Minister was actually the Prime Minister Georgievski “, Buckovski says.
Today Buckoski claims that when he undertook the function of Defense Minister, there was no one to pass him over the duty.
„I entered the Ministry of defense on 14 May and there was no one to give me the function. Paunoski was removed, Ljubco Georgievski didn’t even show up and I found myself face to face with reality “, Buckovski says.
The night on 13 May after the government election, the meeting finished somewhere before midnight and Buckovski and Crvenkovski went to Crvenkovski’s cabinet that he used as Chief of the Parliament opposition.
„I told him: 'Branko, pour a glass of whiskey for us to drink and make a toast because from now on God should save us “, Buckoski recounts.
„After a short while President Boris Trajkovski called us to go into his cabinet. I thought that he wanted to do small celebration on the occasion of election of wide coalition government and to wish us cooperation, as the Defense Minister, by the Constitution, is collaborator to the Supreme Commander too“, Buckovski says.
„But when we entered his cabinet, the Prime Minister Georgievski, General Jovan Andrevski, the CHOD, the new Minister of Interior Ljube Boskoski and Stojan Andov were already sitting there. There were two maps laid on the table. I understood that nothing will come out of the information that the international community has found a solution to the crisis. That night all my expectations that we are getting a large and wide coalition government able to politically resolve the crisis were put out. I faced the reality that the national and military top management are already planning operation in the Lipkovo region. Then it became clear that we are not formed as big coalition to resolve the crisis politically “, the Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski speaks for the news article in „Utrinski Vesnik “.
There were two opposing forces, Buckovski says. "One were 'the hawks' that wanted military solution, аnd me, Ilinka Mitreva and part of other structures were peacekeepers led by the late President Trajkovski “, Buckovski says.
„I think that it is high time for those who were directly involved in the crisis to speak up about the events in those several months from their perspective“, said the Prime Minister Vlado Buchkovski five years after the military conflict in Macedonia.
The former Minister for Interiors, Dosta Dimovska, who was replaced from that function, stayed closely connected to the President Trajkovski until the very end of the conflict. She stated that she saw difference in the approach that Gjorgievski and Trajkovski wanted to use to resolve the crisis.
„Gjorgievski and Trajkovski were strongly committed to the defence of the country. They both lived 24 hours with that thought. They proved great patriotism. They just had differences when deciding about the approach to resolve the crisis. Ljupco wanted to resolve the conflict as soon as possible and successful, while the President wanted to end the crises in peaceful manner“, states Dimovska today.
„But, you know, added Dimovska, the military experience is the most difficult temptation for every person. I can’t put the blame on anyone or say this one is the good and the other one is the bad patriot“.
The senior EU representative for foreign and security policy, Havier Solana, who was constantly present in Macedonia during the critical months, stated for the daily newspaper „Utrinski vesnik “ the following
Under the leadership of President Trajkovski, your leaders have professionally completed their work. They were in a position to work as a team and together they succeeded to give priority to the highest national and government interests. In critical moments, regardless of the political and ethnical affiliation, they all demonstrated maturity and leadership potential. That was a lesson learned for the entire region “, stated Solana.Quite different is the statement given by the NATO secretary general George Robertson, who practically was part of the Macedonian political team who was trying to resolve the crisis. This is what he stated for the daily newspaper „Utrinski vesnik “:
„Their relationship was, mildly said, under tension. The Government was wide coalition composed of all major parties with serious differences in their views, while some were occasionally trying to ambush the peacekeeping process with plea for use of force. “, said Robertson, who is not politically active any longer.
„Regardless of the tensions, still all key players signed the Ohrid Framework agreement. They, even though a team, passed the ball at each others goals, unfairly attacked the captain of the team and sometimes were even unable to pass the ball to their players, but at the end, they were all on the same side, wanting the same results and goals and all signed in Ohrid in 2001 “.
NLA occupied Arachinovo on June 9, 2001, which is a village close to the capital Skopje. This was a new serious escalation of the conflict. NLA threatened that they would attack the Parliament building and Government, as well as the international airport located several kilometres away from Arachinovo.
Arachinovo occupation was commanded from start till end by commander Hodza or Dzezer Sakiri, who is a Parliament representative today. He stated that he is following the instructions provided by Ali Ahmeti and other NLA leaders.
When the public realized that NLA is in Arachinovo, the illusions disappeared and the tension in Skopje grew higher. MOI started handing out weapons to the police and military reservists. There were rumours going around that the NLA rebels spread through the Albanian neighbourhoods in the capital city.

The war close to Skopje
The sounds of the mass attack of the governmental forces for re-occupation of Arachinovo were vividly heard and seen from the capital. Skopje and Macedonia were shaking from the “SU 25” test flights. So, the citizens of Skopje realized that the country is standing on the verge of a civil war.
The battle for Arachinovo finished ingloriously on June 24th. During this battle three police members were killed: Atanas Janev, Nikola Pehchevski and Aleksandar Stojchev; and Oliver Kitanovski was heavily wounded and passed away in the hospital on June 28.Although earlier the Minister of Interior, Ljube Boshkoski expressed optimism for rapid liberation of the village, it did not happen. Three days later, the offensive of the Macedonian security forces was discontinued under the pressure of the EU Senior Representative Xavier Solana, the US Ambassador Mike Aenik, UK Ambassador Dickinson and the French Ambassador Terral on Trajkovski, Georgievski, Boshkoski and Buchkovski.
NATO made an agreement with NLA to evacuate the insurgents from Arachinovo. The operation was agreed and personally observed by Peter Fait, special representative of NATO Secretary General George Robertson, and a person that maintained close connections with the NLA practically throughout the conflict. Around 350 insurgents were allowed to leave the village, with their weapons, assisted by the US troops serving in KFOR, NATO Kosovo Forces. The Macedonian Army was forced to withdraw.
The Macedonian majority considered the evacuation as humiliation and the people reacted strongly to the fact that the insurgents have not been disarmed, but deported with their weapons to another Macedonian territory occupied by NLA.
That evening several thousand Macedonians gathered in front of the Parliament building in Skopje and requested resignation from the President and the Prime minister. The demonstrators occupied the Parliament building, and the protest turned into mass riots, breaking the vehicles owned by the international organizations, total demolishment of the entrance door of OSCE and the offices of “British Airways”. President Trajkovski was evacuated at “Ilinden” barracks.
Xavier Solana, who was in Skopje in those days, states today for the feuilleton in “Utrinski vesnik”:
“In that time I was visiting Skopje regularly, almost every week. I was observing the events with great engagement from my side. Clearly I was worried. But I always believed that a political solution is possible”.

Dangerous situation
In his testimony for this feuilleton, the NATO Secretary General at that time, George Robertson agrees that Arachinovo was a turning point. “I believe that unless we discovered a solution for the crises at that moment, the conflict would have escalated into a civil war”, he says today.
“It was a dangerous situation from numerous aspects and I admit I was desperately worried concerning several things. The question of wanting war or peace was open on both sides. There were people from the side of the Government that wanted to defeat military the NLA, regardless of the cost. This ignored the brutal reality that the Macedonian security forces were incapable of accomplishing this victory, and the hardcore currents publicly persuaded the public regarding this issue”, says Robertson for our feuilleton. On the NLA side, he says, there were people that preferred to keep the villages occupied and undertake actions anywhere, than to accept withdrawal even without their weapons being taken.
“So, the leaders, such as Trajkovski and Ahmeti, regardless of their differences had to face and oppose each with his own hardcore followers, and thank God they won”, says Robertson.
“From my perspective I was very proud of the role of the small NATO team that was negotiating and leading the withdrawal. Those were only a few persons that were unarmed, but showed courage and skills in a very difficult situation. They were also helped by other factors of the international community, for example EU and OSCE monitors, and finally the US soldiers, so that all together they solved a dangerous crises. It was an uncertain situation, worse than ever before, and partially because, I believe, all the sides decided to look for a longer-term and realized that they do not want to lead its own country to ruin”, he says today.
The unsuccessful of the Government to free Arachinovo from the occupation of Ali Ahmeti’s army is a claim that even today has two sides. One say that it is not true that the Macedonian security forces couldn’t defeat the insurgents, whilst others claim that the Army and the Police together with the operation organization truly showed as incapable. General Pande Petrovski, who was commanding with the Arachinovo operation and the evacuation of President Trajkovski speaks about these critical moments.He says it is not true that they were unable to occupy Arachinovo.
“ARM had 20 thousand soldiers available, armored battalions and professional crews, 54 tanks, 120-130 mortars, combat helicopters and enough ammunition for conduct of a final operation and full disburse of NLA”, claims the General today.

The Macedonian minority in Arachinovo suffered the consequences
The inhabitants were pressed to abandon Arachinovo. Until June 2001, around 1300 Albanian and around 200 Macedonian families were leaving in Arachinovo. The Macedonian minority was not aware that Albanian paramilitary forces are penetrating until June 7th, when they realized the Albanian women and children have left the village. The Macedonians did not begin their evacuation until the situation escalated dramatically. Since the Macedonian inhabitants could not prepare themselves before abandoning the village, they had to leave most of their property behind. Those that did not leave on time or had to come back were threatened, kidnapped, and even tortured by the NLA fighters.
The Macedonian Army General, Pande Petrovski who was commanding with the Arachinovo operation speaks about the dramatic events at the discontinuation of the operation, the gathering of the revolted Macedonian citizens in front of the Parliament and the evacuation of President Boris Trajkovski.
“Propaganda was spread in the public through the media that there are 4 thousand terrorists in Arachinovo, but there were only 200-220. I was against an intervention in Arachinovo. It was not a real problem and we could have occupied it. I claim this as an expert”.
The first day of the operation, the security forces penetrated up to the new mosque in Arachinovo and began their actions against the insurgents. The circle was closing slowly and the third day the security forces have already penetrated in two thirds of Arachinovo”, Petreski says.
But, at the meetings we were having, it was strange at the very beginning that President Trajkovski several times emphasized that for Arachinovo “we have been given only two days”. At the beginning I could not understand it. Who has given us two days? And that is why I reacted as a soldier. I said that I do not rush in Arachinovo, two days, three, ten, fifteen days, it doesn’t matter since it does not cause any problems in aspect of some strategy” the General told President Trajkovski. But, Trajkovski replayed that it was the recommendation received from NATO Secretary General George Robertson.On June 25th, around 12.45hrs Trajkovski called him on the phone and told him: “General you are to stop the operation at 13.00hrs”. Petrovski replayed that it can not be stopped at 13.00hrs, but at 13.30hrs since the units are in action.
Trajkovski told the General to be at the “Belvi” hotel at 14.00hrs.
On his way to hotel “Belvi” Petrovski received a phone call from General Zvonko Stojanovski, the Air Force commander and informed him that his pilots noticed white sheets on the houses in Arachinovo and that six fighter planes were noticed on the radars, heading from Italy on a course towards Macedonia.
The General told him to have the helicopters grounded.
“When I arrived at “Belvi” hotel there was quite a sight to be seen. All the western diplomats and military-diplomatic representatives were present. I was surprised from what was going on. I entered the hall and met Buchkovski and Boshkoski there. I am asking Minister Buchkovski: what is this? He says: You will hear! And then, I don’t remember if Nikola Dimitrov or Stevo Pendarovski, introduced me to a men and told me that he is Mr. Peter Fait, a personal representative of NATO Secretary General”, tells Petrovski.
Everyone was present at “Belvi”, says Petrovski, “Ljube Boshkoski, Buchkovski and Peter Fait were sitting next to me. They asked me to prepare a plan for evacuation of the terrorists from Arachinovo”, Petrovski says.The plan was to evacuate the insurgents from Arachinovo and take them to Kosovo.
Then Ljube Boshkoski raised his voice: “They can not be withdrawn unpunished!”General Petrovski calmed him down by saying “Let’s listen to what he has to say and afterwards we will talk”.
And that is what happened. At 16.00hrs NATO entered with four buses from Tetovo and seven NATO buses, with security and plus seven combat “HUMWEES” and seven medical “HUMWEES”.
“As a professional, then I realized that our Army has been humiliated. It turned out that in two days we were unable to occupy Arachinovo, so NATO was suppose to enter for all of us to be able to sit around the table. I understood that this was planned since June 14th, when President Trajkovski send a letter to NATO Secretary General Robertson”, says today Petrovski.
But the problems occurred after entering Arachinovo. Nikola Dimitrov, Advisor of President Trajkovski at that time, told Petrovski: “General, Peter Fait is calling, saying that the insurgents do not want to be evacuated with NATO buses, but they want to withdraw through Nikushtak with their own tractors and trucks”.
“If that is the case, then let NATO withdraw and I will continue the operation! Tell that to Peter Fait” General Petrovski replayed wrathfully.
Dimitrov passed the reaction to Fait. Five minutes later he came back to the General smiling, and said: “General, they accepted the decision to withdraw with NATO buses”. Petrovski told Dimitrov: “You should know that it has been planned in advance. They (NATO) are not joking”.
When the public realized what has been happing at Arachinovo, gathering in front of the Parliament began. That evening, when Petrovski returned to the General Staff, Zlatko Keckovski Chief of President Trajkovski security called. He told him: “General there is a threat for the President to be assassinated, let’s evacuate him to a safe house”. Petrovski suggested evacuating President Trajkovski at “Ilinden” barracks”. Trajkovski arrived there with bodyguard Keckovski and one more bodyguard, all of them in one vehicle.
“The President was very upset, because already the events from in front of the Parliament were shown on television”, Petrovski tells. The group of revolted citizens began entering the Parliament. “I told the President I had to inform Minister Buchkovski of my whereabouts. I asked the President if the Prime Minister knows that he is with us here”, Petrovski tells.
But Trajkovski replayed “Nobody knows where I am, except me and you”. Petrovski informed the President that he told Minister Buchkovski where they are and that he immediately departed towards “Ilinden” barracks.
In meantime, General Petrovski also called the Prime Minister Ljubcho Georgievski. He asked: “Where is the President?” Petrovski told Trajkovski that he would have to inform also Georgievski where they are. “He is with me”, he told Georgievski. “Where are you?” Georgievski asked. “At “Ilinden” barracks”, Petrovski replayed. “I am coming as well”, Georgievski said.
After a short time Crvenkovski arrived also and the event turned into a small state officials gathering. From “Ilinden” barracks they were observing the events in front of the Parliament on the television. Prime Minister Georgievski said: “Find Ljube Boshkoski”.
Petrovski tried to reach the Minister for Interior Ljube Boshkoski on his mobile phone, but he could not be reached. Georgievski himself tried to call him as well, but without success. “I knew where Boshkoski was and with who”, claims today General Pande Petrovski. General told as a joke to Georgievski: “Why they are not pulling down the Government, but the Parliament?” Then Petrovski phoned the police General Risto Galevski. He told him: “Do not let anybody cross Vardar”.
“If they went to Bit-Pazar it would turn into a civil war! The swarm was furious. There was a serious discussion on the possibility for the Army to be used to close down the bridges on Vardar towards Bit-Pazar. I did not allow that. The Army is not for that, neither has been trained for that nor has that function. The whole situation could easily get out of control”, says Petrovski.
As the intensity of the crises was increasing, the number of foreign diplomats and politicians that were staying in Macedonia was increasing. One day before the offensive of the Macedonian security forces in March, the OSCE Presidents’ Special Representative, American Robert Frowick arrived. He was pessimistic regarding the “military defeat of the terrorists”. Because of his suggestions for negotiations with NLA, cease of fire, amnesty and change of the Constitution he was fiercely criticized in public, even by the Macedonian political bloc.
It was stated in his plan that cease of fire is the first step that Macedonia should make, and the Macedonian forces to maintain the positions and not continue forward. After this, the withdrawal of NLA would follow through a security corridor into Kosovo. The plan also envisaged the NLA withdrawal to finish within 48hrs. NLA would not be allowed to enter Kosovo with their weapons. KFOR would not arrest NLA members unless accused in Kosovo. Creation of a wide coalition that would initiate a political dialogue, in which the final task that would need to be attained is the amendment of the Macedonian Constitution. In May 2001, the public discovered that DPA and PDP have signed an agreement with Ali Ahmeti secretly, at a meeting in Prizren, Kosovo.
The agreement caused additional mistrust between the Macedonian side and the international community because of the role of the American diplomat Robert Frowick, who believed that direct contacts with NLA are necessary for establishment of permanent agreement. Frowick suggested immediate cease of fire from NLA side, in exchange of a promise for amnesty. His mission finished soon after the photo of Arben Xhaferi and Imer Imeri with Ali Ahmeti was revealed in the Macedonian media at the end of May, when the Macedonian public learned about the agreement between the Albanian leaders.
Because of his plan for resolution of the crisis, Frowick was discretely banished from the country. But after a few months, his ideas officially became part of the plan of President Boris Trajkovski, supported also by the four leaders: Ljubco Georgievski, Branko Crvenkovski, Arben Xhaferi and Imer Imeri.
In the spring of 2001 the EU Senior Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Xavier Solana, and NATO Secretary General, George Robertson, used shuttle-diplomacy in an attempt to accelerate the agreement process. Today, Xavier Solana, in the feuilleton of “Utrinski Vesnik”, diplomatically replies to our question on which was the crucial moment during the conflict for the Albanian insurgence to be renamed into fighters for human rights:
“In 2001 there was a very complicated situation. The black and white categorization does not help in understanding what happened!”
In June 2001 the American administration named James Perdue from the State Department as a special representative in Macedonia, while EU presented that role to the French politician François Leotard. Perdue was a former officer of US military intelligence, and Leotard a former minister of defense, so they could combine diplomacy and security expertise in their activities for resolution of the Macedonian conflict. During the crisis and after, it was considered that NATO\KFOR, EU and USA consolidate with the Albanian people not only in Kosovo 1999 but also in Macedonia in 2001. In spite of the common attitude and the public condemn of NLA and the insurgency in Macedonia by the international community, the Albanians believed that the outside world not only supports the political dialogue and the new reforms, but also the Albanian uprising as such. The Albanian interlocutors claimed that KFOR enabled NLA to move almost freely between Kosovo and Macedonia and by this it was believed that NATO explicitly supports NLA.
Also, the international press was considered to be ally of the Albanians. Many Macedonians claimed, for example, that the BBC world news is reporting in favor of the Albanians especially at the beginning of the crisis.
Today, the NATO Secretary General at that time, Robertson, in the feuilleton of “Utrinski Vesnik” says that NLA was not right in its actions, but also the Macedonian government did not have a good approach.
“Yes – I knew that some people believe that we support the insurgents, but it was not true. To make it clear, the NLA was not right, as I was constantly repeating back then. But, this did not automatically mean that the only way was to attack NLA”, he says today. The Albanian ethnic community had legitimate complains, adds Robertson, regardless of the fact that NLA was using illegitimate means to reach its goals.
“Our policy was, with the full support from the government, to discover a peaceful solution for the crisis, to give a guarantee that the problems of the Albanian ethnic community will be solved in legitimate manner and by such to cut all the possible justifications of the NLA violent behavior. Allow me to emphasize that we’ve been always acting in agreement with the government and if during any phase of the conflict President Trajkovski would ask us to leave, we would have gone although without our free will”, says Robertson today being no longer an active politician.
According Robertson, the thing that was making the situation even more difficult was the big differences inside the Macedonian government, and fierceness caused by violence is difficult to be controlled.
“We did not support NLA, but both we and the legitimate government of Macedonia mutually realized that the best way to surpass it is what later became known as the Ohrid Agreement”, stated Robertson five years after the conflict ended.
Generally the Macedonians believe that the international community supports the Albanians and the former NLA and not only in 2001 but today also. They believe that in 1999 NATO started a war on behalf of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The Macedonians strongly believe that NATO was supporting NLA also by pretending to be blind for the NLA movement and through the purchase of, for example, the communication equipment.
Even today the Macedonians believe that it was inadequately reported about the great number of ethnic Macedonians abandoned their homes in Tetovo region during the crisis (fifteen thousand in less then two weeks in July).
This was not fair, looked from the Macedonian perspective, having in consideration the international focus on the ethnic Albanian refugees at the beginning of the crisis. Esp

This post first appeared on Macedonian Press Online, please read the originial post: here

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