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Macedonians Rail Against “Biased” Boskoski Indictment

While Albanians applaud Hague prosecutors' action, Macedonians say it reflects a lopsided view of the 2001 conflict.
By Ana Petruseva

The indictment served on Macedonia's former interior minister Ljube Boskoski and a police officer, Johan Tarculovski, may deepen the existing gulf between Macedonians and Albanians and rock the fragile coalition government, political observers say.

News of the tribunal's indictment on March 14 initially stirred little reaction, overshadowed by political bickering and accusations of fraud over last week's local elections.

But analysts warn that once the dust has settled over the ballot, the decision to indict the two Macedonians may have long-term consequences for a country that has not recovered from the armed ethnic conflict between Macedonians and Albanians in 2001.

In the indictment, Hague prosecutors charged Boskoski with responsibility for seven murders during a police raid on the Albanian village of Ljuboten in August 2001.

He was also charged with responsibility for beating detained civilians, during and after a Macedonian police assault on the village.

The indictment names Tarculovski as commander of the unit that carried out the assault on Ljuboten. Tarculovski was arrested in Skopje on March 14 and was transferred to The Hague early on March 16.

Boskoski, who holds dual citizenship, fled to Croatia in May 2004 after Macedonia charged him with the murder of seven migrants.

He is currently in a prison in Pula, Croatia, where he has been detained since September by Croatian courts following a request by Macedonian judiciary investigated his role into the deaths of the seven men - an Indian and six Pakistanis - in Macedonia in 2002. He was charged with their murder on February 26.

The two men are each charged with three counts of violations of the laws and customs of war, relating to the crimes of murder, cruel treatment and wanton destruction of homes in the village.

Bejtula Qaili, brother of Attula Qaili, 35, a farmer from Ljuboten, who died as a result of beatings on August 13 2001, told IWPR he felt "relieved" on hearing that the Hague tribunal had decided to indict over the events there.

Qaili showed gruesome pictures of his brother taken before he was buried five days after his death. (His family could not recover his body for several days). They show a body covered in bruises, cuts and cigarette burns.

"Albanians and Macedonians needed this [the indictment] so we can finally establish the truth," he said. "I do not hate all Macedonians - that will not bring my brother back."

Bejtula added that if those responsible for the crimes in Ljuboten were brought to justice, it might help bring about reconciliation between the communities.

While most Albanians share Qaili's support for the indictment as a necessary part of the healing process, Macedonians view the issue very differently.

"What about our sons and brothers who died defending this country when it was attacked?" asked a Macedonian from Ljubanci, Tarculovski's home village, just a few kilometers away from Ljuboten.

He was taking part in a protest staged by several hundred local people on March 15 to demand the release of both Tarculovski and Boskoski.

Macedonian analysts say that because the Hague has only indicted two Macedonians over the 2001 conflict, it will embitter Macedonians and may worsen tension between the communities.

It will also increase the pressure on the authorities to open a real debate – and put former Albanian fighters on trial – for the events of 2001, they say.

Until now, the authorities have shied away from a serious probe, deeming it too sensitive and problematic, as it would inevitably involve discussion of the acts of former guerrilla fighters who now sit in parliament.

But analysts say the indictment of Tarculovski and Boskoski will strengthen calls for a resolution of four cases from the 2001 conflict involving leaders of the former rebel force, the National Liberation Army, NLA.

One concerns ten individuals from the NLA leadership suspected of participating in and committing crimes. Another deals with a mass grave containing the bodies of 12 missing Macedonians from Tetovo.

A third involves the kidnapping and torture of several construction workers and the last refers to the NLA's closure of the Lipkovo dam, which left the nearby town of Kumanovo without running water for weeks.

As matters stand, Hague prosecutors have not brought any indictments for the four cases, which means they will be sent back to Macedonian courts. (The cases were going through the Macedonian courts when the Hague assumed jurisdiction over them.)

Mirjana Maleska, professor at the South East Europe University, based in Tetovo, said the indictment of the ex-interior minister and the police officer would anger many Macedonians.

"It will strengthen a perception among Macedonians that the Hague is biased and will additionally endanger already fragile inter-ethnic relations," she told IWPR.

Saso Ordanoski, editor of Forum magazine, agreed. "They have set a precedent in Macedonia," he said, referring to the Hague court, "as it is the only country where they have indicted only one side in the conflict."

Borjan Jovanovski, a local analyst, said the indictment would also be counter-productive for the Balkan state in the long term.

"We still do not have a clear picture how or why the conflict started and who is responsible for the killings," he told IWPR.

The indictment, he added, would "fuel feelings of revolt among Macedonians because the Hague is writing history and is making Macedonians as a nation collectively responsible for the conflict".

Jovanovski said that while the indictment would increase pressure on the authorities to open the four cases against the former Albanian guerrillas, this would then destabilise the government, as parties representing those ex-fighters now sit in government as partners of the ruling Social Democrats.

The authorities have reacted with indignation, meanwhile, and with claims that the Dutch court is being unfair.

Late in January, Prime Minister, Vlado Buckovski said, "If the Hague tribunal serves an indictment only on the Ljuboten case, it will present a distorted picture of what happened in the 2001 conflict."

Buckovski added that it would be unjust for all the blame for atrocities to fall on the Macedonian security forces.

In a similar tone, President Branko Crvenkovski said it would be "unacceptable to blame only the Macedonian side for war crimes".

Marjan Gjurovski, press officer for the prime minister, confirmed to IWPR that the authorities now expected to see the four cases against the Albanian ex-fighters returned to local judges.

"The authorities will cooperate with The Hague [but] expect the tribunal to send back the other four cases to the Macedonian courts," Gjurovski told IWPR on March 16.

But while a fresh, more honest, debate about the events of 2001 might seem a healthy development, analysts warn that it will come at the expense of other priority issues.

"Such a debate will take up a lot of time, energy and emotions," said Borjan Jovanovski, "which will affect relations within the ruling coalition, as well as blocking reforms."

Ana Petruseva is IWPR`s Macedonia project manager

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