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Skopje Dismisses KLA Bombing Link

The Macedonian government rejects KLA link to police station bombing
By Veton Latifi

Macedonia's coalition government has dismissed evidence that former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, were behind several terrorist actions in the west of the country last month.


The administration - made up of Macedonian and Albanian parties - say the attacks on both the Tearce police station on January 22 and a Skopje-Kercova train four days later were the work of radicals unconnected to any political organisation.


Yet, in the aftermath of the attacks, the security forces are reported to have raided the homes of former KLA members and have been ordered to step up their deployment in the area.


The Tearce region is close to the border with southern Serbia, where Serbian interior ministry forces are fighting a war of attrition against the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, UCPMB.


Belgrade accuses the UCPMB, which is made up of ex-KLA guerrillas, of trying to annex the Presevo region to Kosovo. Most Macedonians believe they have similar plans for the western, Albanian-dominated part of their country.


The authorities' response to the recent outrages mirrors their reaction to a spate of bomb attacks on police stations in Western Macedonia last year.


Many Macedonians then suspected that the bombings were the work of Albanian extremists and felt the government was reluctant to admit as much because it feared a rift between the ruling coalition of Albanian and Macedonian parties.


Macedonian police have said the four Albanians charged on January 30 with the grenade attack on the Tearce police station - in which an ethnic Macedonian policeman was killed - had acted independently. "These extreme radical individuals are not part of an organised group," said police spokesman Stevo Pendarovski.


The arrests were made after a group calling itself the National Liberation Army, NLA-UCK, claimed responsibility for both the police station and train attacks, in a fax sent to a Skopje TV station. The fax bore the emblem of the now disbanded KLA.


Reflecting its concerns over a possible link between the troubles in southern Serbia and the outbreaks of violence in Western Macedonia, the interior ministry says it has increased security force activities in the Tearce area.


The interior minister Dosta Dimovska said she feared the fighting in southern Serbia could trigger "a wave of refugees and more frequent illegal border crossings".


Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski has warned that Macedonia would have to be extremely vigilant if it was proved the violence in the region was linked to former KLA members.


"We will be facing a real danger if there's conclusive evidence that the attacks in Macedonia are some kind of a reflection of what's happening in southern Serbia, " he said.


For the moment, though, the government insists the NLA and the KLA are not related.


Arber Xhaferi, the president of the ruling coalition member, the Albanian Democratic Party, PDSH, said he was aware of the existence of the NLA, but in his view "this organisation has no casual or ideological connection with the Kosovo Liberation Army".


The head of the Public Security Directorate Zvonko Kasirski said, "We are dealing here with an independent group of extremists."


The authorities' failure to identify the organisation behind the Western Macedonia attacks has led to furious press speculation.


Aside from the KLA link, one of the most popular theories is that criminals had mounted the Tearce attack in retaliation for a recent police crackdown on their activities, especially prostitution.


Others speculate that the NLA may represent radical groups dissatisfied with the policies of leading Albanian political parties, or that the assailants were Kosovars angered by the exclusion of the province's political leaders from ongoing Yugoslav-Macedonia border talks.


Some have even suggested that the government had a hand in the attack to deflect attention away from a bugging scandal which could seriously damage the administration. Albanians living in the Tearce area are angry with the authorities for their reaction to the attack. Human rights organisations have complained that some police units mounted indiscriminate raids on Albanian homes and maltreated their occupants - a charge the interior ministry denies.


"It's high time that the Tearce event is cleared up," said Milaim Fevziu, the president of the Forum for the Protection of Human Rights, "By casting Albanians as a destabilising force in Macedonia, deep divisions are being created between us and Macedonians which could have unforeseen consequences."


Veton Latifi, is a political analyst and freelance journalist from Macedonia


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