Hasani Release Sparks Outcry

A political storm has broken out in Macedonia over the controversial release of an Albanian criminal.

Hasani Release Sparks Outcry

A political storm has broken out in Macedonia over the controversial release of an Albanian criminal.

The Skopje authorities exchanged the notorious former Kosovo Liberation Army, UCK leader, Xhavit Hasani, for Macedonian soldiers abducted by Kosovo Albanians, the Macedonian media claim.

The reported exchange, denied by the authorities, has been condemned by the opposition as a violation of the rule of law.

Hasani, extradited to Macedonia by the UN Mission in Kosovo last month, was released on April 4 on bail of 200, 000 German marks, making a triumphal return to the town of Vitina in Kosovo.

Hasani, seen as national hero and freedom fighter in Kosovo, is facing charges of attempted murder in Macedonia.

Independent newspapers and electronic media in Skopje claim the authorities traded Hasani with four Macedonian border guards abducted on April 2 on the Kosovo frontier by 30 masked men, believed to be members of the Kosovo Protection Corps.

The guards were taken 20 kilometers inside Kosovo territory where they were interrogated and humiliated, the media report.

According to the Pristina daily, Koha Ditore, Hasani returned to Kosovo with Arben Xhaferi, the leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians, part of Macedonia's ruling coalition.

Two years ago, Hasani wounded a man when he opened fire on police and builders sent to demolish a house he'd built illegally in a Skopje suburb. He fled to Kosovo, where he became one of the UCK's most extreme commander.

The Skopje weekly magazine, Start, reports that Hasani was involved in smuggling weapons from Macedonia into Kosovo and cleared residents of his home village Tanusevci in Macedonia to create a logistical base and refuge for UCK fighters.

Macedonian Minister of Defence, Nikola Kljusev, admitted in parliament on April 4 that the border guards had been abducted but described as pure speculation reports that they had been exchanged for Hasani.

President Boris Trajkovski denied claims that he was involved in the alleged prisoner swap.

He went on to warn KFOR commander, Klaus Reinhardt, that he would hold him responsible if there were any further abductions of Macedonian border guards. He said he "would not tolerate such or similar incidents."

Macedonia has meanwhile increased the number of its troops patrolling the Kosovo frontier. "They are on a heightended state of alert," said Trajkovski. KFOR has also agreed to send additional soldiers to the region.

In the wake of the alleged Hasani exchange, Macedonian opposition parties have accused the government violating the rule of law.

"Terrorism has entered Macedonia on large scale, " said Vladimir Buckovski, spokesman for the Social Democratic Alliance. "Our government is exchanging our soldiers for a criminal. It is a shame for both the state and citizens."

While speculation over Hasani's release continues, questions are also being asked about UNMIK's decision to extradite him to Skopje in the first place.

No extradition treaty exists between UNMIK and Macedonia, which is why Skopje was rather surprised by the international administration's decision to deport him.

Citing anonymous police and Ministry of Justice sources, "Nova Makedonja" alleges UNMIK considered Hasani' presence in Kosovo "undesirable".

The chief administrator in the province, Bernard Kouchner, is said to have personally signed his deportation order, following claims that he provoked Serbian security forces in Presevo in southern Serbia.

Some Kosovars questioned the legality of the extradition while Hasani's friends threatened UNMIK.

The Albanian Kosovapress news agency said, "On what moral and judicial grounds did Kouchner give this 'order'? Was he a judge, prosecutor, prince, or king of Kosova? He is none of these."

The Hasani episode may have compromised Macedonian justice but more worrying is its exposure of KFOR's shortcomings.

Macedonian police says that the arrival of KFOR in the republic has coincided with an increase in the number of dangerous criminal seeking refuge in the region. While the nature of terrain along the frontier makes infiltration easy, KFOR has been blamed for not mounting adequate patrols in the area.

Police say twelve arrest warrants for criminals believed to have escaped to Kosovo have been submitted to Interpol. KFOR claims it has difficulty apprehending suspects because many people in Kosovo use false names.

The Macedonian government, however, continues to ask KFOR and UNMIK for help with the extradition of wanted criminals. "Nova Makedonja" says there are several hundred requests pending.

Zeljko Bajic is a regular IWPR contributor

Support our journalists