Macedonia: Amnesty Isn't Working

Confusion over a government amnesty for former Albanian rebels means many of them dare not return to their towns and villages.

Macedonia: Amnesty Isn't Working

Confusion over a government amnesty for former Albanian rebels means many of them dare not return to their towns and villages.

Wednesday, 6 February, 2002

An amnesty proclaimed in Macedonia last year for Albanian rebels has proved too full of loopholes, leaving many who fought in the seven-month uprising still in danger of arrest.

Most prominent of these is Ali Ahmeti, former political representative of the disbanded National Liberation Army, NLA, who does not dare visit his own birthplace, Kerceva, for fear of being locked up. Macedonian police have filed charges against him and his friends.

Judicial experts said the amnesty pledge issued in September by President Boris Trajkovski was not enough to safeguard dissidents like Ahmeti. Only a proposed parliamentary bill expressly bringing the pardon into law could guarantee their freedom.

Trajkovski had said only those who handed over their weapons by September 26, 2001 and who had "committed no crimes against innocent civilians" would be reprieved. The president did not say who would decide if such crimes had been committed. His statement was followed by the release of 64 of 88 Albanians then in detention.

Ahmeti currently holds court in the Albanian stronghold of Shipkovica, where he has set up a coordination council to push for implementation of the amnesty and all other concessions offered in the Ohrid peace agreement of August 13 last year.

"Amnesty," Ahmeti said, "is indispensable for the peace and stability of the country."

In this he is backed by strong pressure from the international community. Xhavier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said he had received promises from Trajkovski and Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski that they would push the amnesty through parliament.

Solana also requested that the "Lions" - a special police unit manned by Macedonian ultra-nationalists - should be pulled back to barracks.

The European mediator for Macedonia, Alan Leroy, said in an interview with Lobi magazine that the international community is pressing to have the amnesty brought into force before the next parliamentary elections expected in late spring.

Although he has promised to push the law through, Georgievski has long been an opponent of the measure. He said last week he would support the legislation only when "the multi-ethnic police patrols enter the last village in the conflict-hit area".

This is reference to the joint Macedonian-Albanian police units that have been patrolling selected villages in sensitive areas. Some villages have so far refused to let these patrols in. One of them is Shipkovica and nearby Radusha, which are deemed too dangerous for Macedonian police. Albanians say police redeployment in both must await enactment of the amnesty law.

The fate of thousands of NLA fighters who handed over their weapons to NATO troops remains uncertain. Many like Ahmeti cannot return to their former homes or jobs. They are mostly sheltering in mountain villages or have moved across the border to Kosovo.

There have been reports that those who go to police stations to apply for passports are often ill treated. One ex Albanian rebel, Rufat Shaqiri, was arrested on January 24, in Bit Pazar, in the old quarter of Skopje, when he went to collect his passport.

The deputy prime minister, Qemal Musliu, an Albanian, said, "The ministry of interior is playing with the fate of former NLA fighters and fuelling tensions. The amnesty issue should be settled quickly."

Meanwhile, the promised peace still remains a dream for many Albanians. Shots are heard every night in the northern Tetovo region, while in Skopje there's political chaos.

Macedonian nationalists take advantage of the situation by warning that "Albanian terrorists" are preparing for a new offensive in the spring.

"The government is exploiting the situation to declare that the conflict is far from over and to keep the tensions running high, " said one former NLA fighter.

Salajdin Salihu is a journalist with the Albanian language weekly Lobi.

Macedonia, Kosovo
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