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Macedonia: Police Back on the Beat

Police have resumed patrols in front-line Macedonian villages, but a full return to peace will take some time.
By Arta Latifi

Police patrols are tentatively returning to five Macedonian villages for the first time since the outbreak of ethnic conflict.


Experimental squads composed of three officers from each of the main ethnic groups patrol in the morning and early afternoon in the majority Albanian villages of Tearce and Lesok in the Tetovo region, Opaje and Lopate in the Kumanovo commune and Grusino near Skopje.


Members of the Macedonian population in general were glad to see policemen back under an internationally-sponsored peace agreement. The minority Albanians are more suspicious.


Fuelling their anxieties was the government's attempt to water down the Ohrid accord which would have given them more rights. The community also resents the lack of an amnesty for KLA guerrillas. They do not trust President Boris Trajkovski's claim that the militants will not be penalised.


Ilija Filipovski, deputy premier and Macedonian head of a government team coordinating efforts to resolve the crisis, considered the resumption of patrols boded well for the implementation of the overall framework agreement. Filipovski says the president's promise not to move against KLA members should be good enough.


The Albanian representative on the coordinating team, Hixhet Memeti, agreed the police would help restore mutual trust. But in Tearce, Albanian residents criticised the fact they came under direct orders of the interior ministry. They want the operation to be supervised by the OSCE, the EU and NATO.


One of the local Albanian leaders, Llokman Elezi, said the patrols should not have gone ahead before the KLA received an amnesty and the Ohrid constitutional amendments had been put into effect.


A day after the police patrols started on October 18, a powerful bomb went off near the Tearce community centre, damaging the police station and some communal offices. NATO and OSCE could not say who was responsible.


Sali Jonuzi, chief of the Tearce communal council, said the blast was provoked by the return of officers. "The police cannot come back here that easily because during the war they fired on the Albanian population, " he said. "They cannot return until the wounds of war are healed."


Interior ministry spokesman, Vasko Shutarov, suggested it might have been the work of still-active KLA fighters. But the group's local commander, nicknamed Ilir, insisted his organisation had disbanded and its former members were no longer active.


The patrols seem to have been welcomed in the Kumanovo area, especially in the Lipkovo commune whose chairman Husamedin Halili said the move would encourage the army to withdraw from the Kumanovo - Lipkovo road, a vital supply route.


Residents felt this would create conditions for a return to normality. This did happen in the village of Opaje when army stations were dismantled although returning Albanian residents found their houses ruined and looted by the police.


The pilot plan is also working well in the village of Grusino in the Skopje area. Even so, residents of this commune say it will take a long time to ease the Albanian population's suspicions.


Arta Latifi is an Albanian journalist based in Macedonia.


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