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Macedonian Bombing Speculation Rages

Macedonians suspect a government cover up over a series of recent bombings.
By IWPR

Many Macedonian remain convinced that Albanian extremists were responsible for a recent spate of bomb attacks on police stations, despite government claims that Yugoslav agents were behind the crimes.


Macedonia's Interior Minister, Dosta Dimovska, last week accused Belgrade secret police of responsibility for three separate bomb attacks since the beginning of January.


She claimed the incidents were part of a strategy by Yugoslav's President Slobodan Milosevic to draw Macedonia into the Kosovo conflict.


The leader of the governing Democratic Party of Albanians, Arben Xhaferi, said he believed Milosevic's intention is to undermine the KFOR operation in Macedonia, as he would not dare to attack KFOR inside Kosovo.


The government claim came as the United States announced it was reinforcing its forces in Macedonia amid growing fears of clashes between Albanian guerrillas and Serb forces in southern Serbia.


A Pentagon spokesman said an additional 14 tanks and 6 artillery pieces would be deployed to "serve as a deterrent to any mischief that might be taking along the borders of Macedonia."


While the Macedonian government may have good reason to be concerned that the Kosovo conflict could spill across the border, its charge of Yugoslav involvement in the police station incidents has not been backed by concrete evidence.


Indeed, members of a parliamentary security commission complained that a report on the bombings by intelligence officials was short of information.


When the president of the commission, Ljupco Popovski, was asked whether Yugoslav secret services were active in Macedonia, he replied guardedly that there were many foreign agents working in the country.


The absence of evidence has polarized opinion over the bombings. Some believe that Belgrade was involved, while others suspect Albanian extremists.


Since the beginning of the year, there have been three terrorist attacks on police stations: in the village of Oslomej near Kicevo on January 20, in Kumanovo ten days later, and in Tetovo at the beginning of March.


The attacks - for which there have been no arrests - all took place in predominantly Albanian areas. Their aim, it is believed, was to generate a climate of fear.


The independent and opposition media have drawn readers' attention to a series of nine bombings against police stations and courtrooms in the first half of 1998.


The Kosovo Liberation Army claimed responsibility for three of the attacks, in Gostivar, Prilep, and Kumanovo. And last October, nine young Albanians were convicted of other attacks in Kicevo and Tetovo.


Many now suspect that Albanian extremists are responsible for the latest spate of bombings - and that the authorities are reluctant to admit as much for fear of undermining the ruling coalition of Albanian and Macedonian parties.


Some people believe the government has some grounds for pointing the finger of suspicion at Belgrade.


Yugoslav secret services are alleged to have been involved in terrorist actions against NATO troops a year ago, at the start of the alliance's intervention in Yugoslavia.


The then Interior Minister, Pavle Trajanov, revealed that the incidents were the work of three terrorist groups made up of Macedonian and Yugoslav citizens. They acted, he claimed, on the orders of two agents from Yugoslavia's military intelligence.


The police said the Macedonians were officers of the former Yugoslav Army who remained in the republic after the disintegration of the federation.


Four young men of Serbian nationality were convicted for one of the attacks, in which explosives were planted under a lorry at the NATO headquarters in Skoplje.


At the height of the NATO operation against Belgrade, senior interior ministry official, Ljube Boskovski accused Yugoslav ambassador to Macedonia, Zoran Janackovic, of orchestrating the terrorist attacks and organising the Yugoslav intelligence network.


Newspapers at the time pointed out that the ambassador's biography had revealed him to be a former intelligence agent and a trusted associate of Slobodan Milosevic. Janackovic remained in his post despite the accusations.


Yugoslav embassy officials in Skoplje say they've long grown accustomed to Macedonian accusations of interference in the republic's internal affairs. "Our country is always to blame for all troubles that happen in Macedonia," said one diplomat who preferred not to named.


Until politicians come up with hard evidence to back their accusations, the identity of those who perpetrated the police station bombings will remain in doubt. The longer speculation goes on the greater the risk to Macedonian-Albanian relations.


Zeljko Bajic is a regular contributor to IWPR.


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