A Fragile Truce

Tensions between Macedonians and Albanians continue to rise, despite the recent cease-fire agreement between the security forces and the NLA.

A Fragile Truce

Tensions between Macedonians and Albanians continue to rise, despite the recent cease-fire agreement between the security forces and the NLA.

Tetovo is quiet but tense in the aftermath of the fragile EU-brokered truce between Macedonian security forces and NLA rebels.

For locals in this northwestern town, the shaky cease-fire, signed just over a week ago, is more like a lull before a storm, than the prelude to any lasting peace accord. "If the talks don't produce a successful agreement," said one local analyst, "the war will return. Both sides are preparing for it."

Ordinary Macedonians worry about their personal security and their property. Rumours about new outbreaks of fighting contribute to their sense of unease. "This false information is very dangerous for the town's security, as it makes people very jumpy and unpredictable," said Murtezan Ismaili, mayor of Tetovo.

Macedonian and Albanian political parties routinely blame each other for breaking the cease-fire. OSCE observers rush to wherever an incident is reported in an attempt to make the peace agreement work.

Both the government of President Boris Trajkovski and the Macedonian media have accused the NLA of an "ethnic-cleansing" campaign in the mountain villages of Jedoarce, Brezno, Setole, Otunje, Varvara and Jelosnik, 30 km to the north of Tetovo.

The displaced inhabitants of these villages, now occupied by NLA forces, protested strongly at the government's lack of action at a special meeting held with Trajkovski on July 9. He reassured them that everything possible was being done to ensure they returned home at the earliest possible date.

Leaders of the Albanian rebels deny their fighters have broken the cease-fire or deported Macedonians in the Tetovo region. "The killing of NLA fighter Bedri Emini in Neproshten proves just who is breaking the cease-fire," an NLA commander, who preferred not to be named, told IWPR.

Emini, a native of Neproshten, was killed by sniper fire. Albanian villagers say the manner of his death proves that Macedonian paramilitary groups are operating in the area. A Macedonian man was arrested in connection with the killing, but the case was dropped for lack of evidence.

The NLA commander said the Macedonian 'ethnic-cleansing' claims were designed to distract attention away from the alleged deportation of Albanians in Skopje and Kercovo.

Following the cease-fire announcement, thousands of Albanians who had fled to Kosovo to escape the violence tried to return home. They claim they were stopped from going back by Macedonian police who demanded travel documents before allowing them to cross the border.

Although the truce appears to be holding, Albanians worry that a new offensive is being prepared by Macedonia's security forces. The Macedonians fear, meanwhile, that the NLA is set to go back to war. Both are building up stocks of food, medicine and other essentials in preparation for the bad times ahead.

Tensions are particularly high in the villages of Slatine and Neproshten, formerly occupied by the NLA. On May 5, the residents of Leshka accused the mainly Albanian villagers in Slatine and Neproshten of attacking them. "We were fired at from those villages," said one Leshka resident.

Albanian villagers countered with claims that they were maltreated by Macedonians at the police checkpoint in Leshka. Xhemali Etemi, head of Slatine's public administration said, "None of us opened fire at Leshka - on the contrary they fired at us".

The situation deteriorated further when masked men entered Leshka's Hospital for

Lung Disease, forcing the mainly Albanian staff and patients to leave. An IWPR source, who wishes to remain anonymous, said Tetovo health service chiefs threatened to fire anyone who talked to the press about the incident.

Meanwhile, the divisions between the Macedonian and Albanian communities continue to worsen. Macedonians from Leshka told journalists that they wanted "nothing to do" with their Albanian neighbours, a view echoed by Albanians.

Selajdin Salihu is a journalist of weekly Lobi

Macedonia, Kosovo
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