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The possible indictment of the hard line interior minister for his role in the brutal assault on an Albanian village has drawn a fierce reaction.
By Ana Petruseva

Macedonians Rally in Support of Boskovski

Thousands of Macedonians demonstrated last Friday in front of the parliament in Skopje, in defence of the hard line interior minister, Ljube Boskovski, following media reports that he may be extradited to The Hague.

Holding banners reading "Ljube is a hero", "We are not giving up Ljube" and "no compromise with terrorists", they voiced fury at the notion that Macedonians may have to answer for human rights abuses committed during the government's campaign against ethnic Albanian militants.

"We won`t give up our brother Ljube," said Kire Kovacev, spokesman for the pressure group, the Association to Protect Macedonians from the Tribunal, set up last week in Bitola. "No Macedonian should go to The Hague."

Taking part in the protest, Boskovski, a leading member of the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation, VMRO, said it was not being held in his own honour but for the "defenders of Macedonia". He added, "Tonight Macedonia gave its historic 'no'."

Protest organisers claim around 240,000 people have already signed a petition to protect Boskovski against possible extradition to The Hague.

This campaign was launched a few days after tribunal experts and Macedonian officials began the exhumation of bodies in Ljuboten, a village where the police are accused of killing ethnic Albanian civilians last August. Ten bodies have been exhumed so far.

As interior minister, Boskovski supervised the government's campaign to suppress the armed uprising in mostly Albanian western districts of Macedonia. The campaign drew harsh criticism from international human rights bodies, which accused police of launching indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch last September accused the security forces of shooting dead six civilians in Ljuboten, killing another three in random shelling and beating scores of others after eight Macedonian soldiers were killed by landmines nearby.

Boskovski was filmed in Ljuboten during the action but has since denied any wrongdoing. He said the deaths were all battle related and described the village as a "terrorist" stronghold. Human Rights Watch said there was no credible evidence of guerrilla activity in the village.

Reports that Boskovski may be called to account for his actions in Ljuboten have no solid foundation but have been gaining momentum ever since last November's visit to Skopje by the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte.

The pro-government daily Nova Makedonija fuelled the growing panic last week when it claimed that The Hague would prosecute Boskovski even if it lacked concrete evidence of any crimes.

Although a tribunal spokesman replied that Boskovski had not been indicted, nationalists fear Macedonia may not escape The Hague's dragnet and bitterly resent any criticism of the government's actions against the Albanian rebels.

Diplomats described the media furore as a shrewd political manoeuvre, designed to warn the war crimes court that any attempt to extradite Boskovski could cause turmoil on the streets. It was "a populist move by a populist politician", said one western diplomat, who doubted the rallies and petitions were as spontaneous as they appeared.

"This is nothing new. We have seen such campaigns in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia," one international observer said. "The tactic is to show how popular Boskovski is, and raise the fear that if he goes to The Hague, it could endanger the fragile peace process."

Macedonia's main opposition Social Democrats have declined to support the rallies in favour of Boskovski. "We might join the campaign 'We won`t give up Ljube'," said Gjorgi Spasov, party general secretary, "only because we feel he should stay in the country so that we can try him here for everything he's done to Macedonia."

Anna Petruseva is journalist with the Skopje magazine Forum

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