Macedonia: Holiday Home Looting Scandal

Macedonians threaten to sue the government after it emerged that army reservists looted their holiday homes.

Macedonia: Holiday Home Looting Scandal

Macedonians threaten to sue the government after it emerged that army reservists looted their holiday homes.

Up until inter-ethnic violence erupted earlier this year, Kiro Dimkovski, a Macedonian, spent six months of every year on the Sara mountain, above the city of Tetovo.

The 71-year-old from Skopje, who'd built his weekend home in the winter resort of Popova Sapka over a number of years, could hardly wait to retire in order to spend more time there.

But for the past eight months, the mountain has been the scene of fierce fighting between the Macedonian security forces and the NLA.

Kiro is one of many from Skopje and Tetovo who joined a convoy - organised by the government Coordinating Body for Crisis Management - on October 14 to inspect the condition of their weekend homes. "I found the most terrible mess, kicked-in doors, broken windows, chaos in all the rooms. It took my breath away," he said.

Most shocking of all, the damage was not the result of fighting or NLA raids, but the handiwork of Macedonian reservists.

During the fighting, the resort was surrounded by NLA-controlled areas and reachable only by helicopter. As Macedonian security forces still do not control the territory between Tetovo and Popova Sapka, the convoy was escorted by a team from the EU Observation Mission.

The sight which greeted the convoy was dispiriting. Not a single house had been left untouched. All the weekend homes and hotels had been smashed and looted. The day after the convoy, the defence and interior ministries admitted that some of their staff had been involved in the looting.

"Between June and October, officers of the Republic of Macedonia Army discovered 30 reserve soldiers to be carrying stolen goods from weekend houses in Popova Sapka," said a defence ministry statement. "The incidents are being investigated and the perpetrators will be brought before the appropriate courts."

The ministry said that the stolen property had been handed over to the Popova Sapka police, who were storing it at the police station.

The defence minister, Vlado Buckovski, condemned the vandalism and promised those responsible would face criminal charges. There will also be an investigation into the leadership of the various units deployed in the period the houses were looted.

Since the police were officially in charge of the resort when the looting occurred, the interior minister Ljube Boskovski has also ordered a criminal investigation. Boskovski declared himself baffled by the behaviour of the reservists, particularly at a time of national crisis.

"What I saw in Popova Sapka was a real disgrace, all the more so since this vandalism was carried out by members of our own security forces," said VMRO-DPMNE deputy Aleksandar Talevski, who was on the convoy. "I intend to raise this issue in parliament and hold those who did this accountable."

His outrage is echoed by the homeowners themselves, most of whom are Macedonians. They are not satisfied with the government statements, especially since the authorities had known about the incident for some time and only now agreed to investigate it. Some have said they intend to sue the authorities.

Others busied themselves boarding up their doors and windows and clearing up the debris strewn across their floors. Asked whether they planned to return to their second homes, they simply shrugged.

Gordana Iceska is the deputy editor-in-chief of Skopje based weekly Kapital.

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