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Macedonia: Renewed Rebel ''Threat''

The ruling party's nationalist rhetoric over Albanian security threats may be an attempt to bolster its flagging opinion poll ratings.
By Saso Ordanoski

Facing defeat in September's general elections, Macedonian Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski appears to be playing up the renewed threat of ethnic Albanian extremism.


In what many analysts see as a ploy to divert attention from issues such as corruption and unemployment in the run-up to the September 15 poll, Georgievski has leapt on internal NATO reports of a new "extremist organisation" calling itself the Army of the Republic of Ilirida, ARI.


"The ideas for winning territories and establishing 'Greater Albania' are not over yet," the official Macedonian Information Agency reported the prime minister warning on August 1.


Georgievski was further quoted as saying that he had obtained official information from Macedonian ambassador to NATO Nano Ruzin the previous day that the new group, included former ethnic Albanian politician Nevzat Halili - ex-president of the first ethnic Albanian party in Macedonia, the Party for Democratic Prosperity, PDP - who recently appeared on a United States list of "terrorists".


The premier's fiery nationalistic rhetoric is largely seen as the first shots in a hotly contested election campaign in which things do not look good for his party. Indeed, a survey published on July 15 showed Georgievski's ruling VMRO-DPMNE behind the opposition SDSM by a 3-1 margin.


According to IWPR sources in Brussels, a report in a July 26 internal NATO intelligence briefing stated that based on "unconfirmed sources" ARI was believed to consist of a few young men, badly trained, armed with light personal weapons, and led by some ex-National Liberation Army, NLA, fighters.


NATO's assessment concluded that although some improvised training sites were on Macedonian territory, near Kodra Fura on the Macedonian-Kosovo border, a lack of equipment, training and local support meant it did not pose a real security threat to the country.


This border region has long been a source of tension, with the Macedonian authorities accusing the NATO-led mission in Kosovo of not dealing firmly enough with armed groups of Albanian militants operating from the area.


Nano Ruzin, was, however, dismissive of any imminent danger. "The existence of this kind of paramilitary organisation does not pose a serious challenge to the peace and stability and territorial integrity of the Republic of Macedonia," he told IWPR.


Another IWPR source at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, who insisted on anonymity, echoed this. "These people are adventurers and they are not a threat to Macedonian stability," he said.


The fragmentation of Albanian terrorist groups, he went on, represents a weakening not a strengthening of the movement, "The National Lliberation Army is falling apart."


However, Macedonian intelligence sources say that the case is not that simple. "The CIA would not add Halili's name to President Bush's terrorist list for no good reason," said one.


The former Albanian politician was included on the "blacklist" last month. There was no explanation and the move was greeted with some surprise.


The same intelligence source told IWPR that Halili is being seen locally as the main founder and key political figure in the ARI, with ex-Yugoslav Peoples Army officer Taljat Xhaferi leading its military command and some former Kosovo Liberation Army commanders also involved. The group is financed mainly by the Albanian community in Switzerland, the source added.


On August 2, the head of the Serb parliamentary group in the Kosovo parliament Rada Trajkovic accused ARI - which she said was based in the province - of being behind the recent attack on the village of Klokot near Gnjilane, which destroyed several Serbian houses and injuring two US soldiers, members of the NATO-led KFOR force who were protecting the village.


Agron Buxhaku, spokesman for the Albanian party, Union for Democratic Integration, UDI, led by ex-NLA commander, Ali Ahmeti, said "extremist" groups were operating from Kosovo "and we cannot control their activities from here".


He described them as "consisting of few bankrupt former politicians and manipulated youngsters", but insisted that they had "zero" public support.


Georgievski, in a recent speech to mark the Macedonian uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1903, lambasted the West for "dirty tricks" in offering what he sees as at least implicit encouragement for such groups.


The prime minister said that western powers had backed the creation of independent Kosovo, and may support a "Greater Kosovo" - the province's annexation of Albanian-populated areas of Macedonia.


During the uprising by ethnic Albanian rebels last year, he said, "Macedonia was exposed to extremely unprincipled coalition of interests by the military industry of western democracies and those fighting for the creation of Greater Kosovo."


Saso Ordanoski is IWPR's coordinating editor in Macedonia.


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