Macedonia: Bombings Fuel Tensions

Ethnic Albanians suspect Macedonian police and paramilitaries are to blame for bomb attacks against their community.

Macedonia: Bombings Fuel Tensions

Ethnic Albanians suspect Macedonian police and paramilitaries are to blame for bomb attacks against their community.

The Macedonian police have been accused of colluding in apparent terrorist bomb attacks after failing to arrest anyone in connection with the explosions.

Over the last two months, there have been 17 bombings in mainly Albanian-inhabited areas of Skopje, and the predominantly Albanian-populated towns of Tetovo and Kumanovo in the west of the country. But there have also been several blasts in Macedonian neighbourhoods of the capital.

Some have suggested that the explosions are mafia related, but because of the recent conflict and impasse over the peace accord, most observers, and indeed some Macedonian government officials, suspect the attacks have been motivated by inter-ethnic hatred.

The bombers have targeted commercial and residential property, causing significant damage. One person is known to have died and dozens have been injured in the explosions.

The Albanians have accused Macedonian paramilitaries for the attacks on their community, and they claim police are protecting them. Macedonians, meanwhile, suspect the Albanian militant group, the NLA, is responsible for explosions in their neighbourhoods.

The unresolved crimes have fueled ethnic tensions at a critical time in the faltering peace process. The Skopje authorities are dragging their heels over ratification of a deal to end the fighting.

The NATO secretary-general, George Robinson, said last week that further delays could spark renewed violence. The warning came as parliament once more postponed a debate on giving the Albanians greater constitutional rights.

The police say they are clueless as to who is behind the bombings. Albanians are unconvinced, accusing them of colluding with the perpetrators or at least turning a blind eye to the explosions.

Their suspicions have been raised by reports that a special police reserve, numbering around 1400 men, has been set up by interior minister Ljube Boskovski. Albanians believe the unit, known as the Lions, is aimed at intimidating and pressuring their community.

Verhap Ismaili, whose Bizness restaurant was the target of one of the explosions, is convinced Macedonian paramilitaries are behind the spate of terror. So too are the Rama brothers. Their Seven Brothers petrol station in the capital was bombed - the damage estimated at around five million marks.

As a result of the bombings, feelings are running high in Albanian neighbourhoods and local Macedonians are fearful of retaliatory strikes. "Whenever an Albanian shop is blown up," said one old Macedonian, "I am afraid that somebody will hurt me in revenge."

Indeed, there have been a handful of bomb attacks on Macedonian areas of Skopje. A tea-house in the Cair neighbourhood was bombed. And a Bit Pazar police station was threatened.

The last incident occurred October 3 and caused the greatest confusion so far. Zahir Xhaferi, deputy president of the small radical Albanian People's Democratic Party was driving past the offices of the nationalist Nova Macedonia newspaper when his car exploded killing him and injuring two passers-by.

Several theories have been offered up. One is that Macedonian hardliners had planted explosives in his car, another that Xhaferi was a suicide bomber. But the most likely explanation is that he was ferrying explosives which, due to the state of the roads and the car's bad suspension, went off by accident.

The police continue to insist they have no idea who is behind the spate of bombings, but some government officials have confirmed the suspicions of both the Albanian and Macedonian community.

"For me it's clear," said one official " If you hear that a bomb exploded in an Albanian café, then you know that Macedonian paramilitaries - controlled by some parts of the interior ministry are behind it."

"Likewise, when a bomb explodes in a Macedonian house or police station, then it's the NLA."

Sefer Tahiri is a Radio Free Europe journalist and works in the Albanian service of Macedonian TV

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