US ' Pays' for Albanian Police Recruits

Boosting the number of Albanians in the Macedonian police force could help to reduce inter-ethnic tension.

US ' Pays' for Albanian Police Recruits

Boosting the number of Albanians in the Macedonian police force could help to reduce inter-ethnic tension.

Wednesday, 16 May, 2001

The United States has offered one and a half million US dollars to boost the number of Albanians in the police force, as part of efforts to diffuse the Macedonian crisis, according to unofficial sources close to the American embassy in Skopje.

The sources said President Boris Trajkovski discussed the police projects during his recent visit to Washington.

The money, it is said, will be spent on training and financial assistance for Albanian officers who make up just under two per cent of the eight thousand-strong force. Macedonians say there's no limit on Albanians serving in the police, claiming that they choose not to do so because of their hostility towards the state.

Albanians, however, have long been unhappy about their disproportionately low numbers in the police. Over the years, relations between the two have been poor, but they've deteriorated significantly recently, with Albanian civilians claiming they're being subjected to increasing police intimidation.

"What else could be expected from a mono-ethnic Macedonian police force which has already shown that it lacks the courage to take on the NLA," said Muzafer, an Albanian from the village of Sipkovice, near Tetovo." All they do is vent their anger on innocent Albanians, prompting them to go to the mountains to join the rebels."

According to some reports, the police are separating young Albanian men from their families at checkpoints, as they try to escape the conflict zone. There have been reports of indiscriminate arrests, with detainees taken to Kumanovo police station to be interrogated and beaten.

Albanians say police repression has radicalised them.

Boosting Albanian police numbers would be hard to achieve as the community is now set against the force. "Albanians have never trusted the police and given the present situation it will be especially difficult for them to start now," said one Albanian from Skopje.

Ever since Macedonia gained its independence in 1991, Albanian political parties have been demanding greater representation of Albanians in state institutions, particularly in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, IAM. They claim the force has unfairly targeted their community on numerous occasions.

Police raided the Bit-Pazar quarter of Skopje in 1993, as part of clampdown on cigarette smuggling. Three Albanians and one Macedonian were killed in the incidents. Officers thwarted attempts to re-open Tetovo university in 1997. One Albanian was killed and a number of college staff were detained.

In their defence, the police claim Albanians are responsible for more than 50 per cent of serious crime. And some observers believe the force treats Albanians no more harshly than Macedonians.

There have been some positive developments, though. For the first time since independence, the post of deputy interior minister went to an Albanian. During Refet Elmazi's time in office, around 130 non-Macedonians were employed in the ministry.

Albanians have also been appointed to important posts in the secret services and criminal investigation units. And they made up about a quarter of new police recruits last year.

But as far as Albanians are concerned, there has not been enough progress. And it remains to be seen whether the new coalition government will fare any better. Much will depend on the policies of the new police minister Ljube Boskovski.

Meanwhile, on the ground, police officers continue to far exceed their powers - and many of them have not been held to account.

In January, residents of the village of Arcina near Skopje were ill-treated by police investigating the fatal shooting of three of their colleagues. Following an outcry from the Albanian community, several officers were dismissed.

Sabri Asani, one of the Albanian suspects in the shoot-out, later died in police custody, as a consequence of a cocaine overdose, police say. But pictures of his corpse bore evidence of violence, including an apparent bullet hole in his head, according to Amnesty International.

Members of the security and counter-intelligence services beat up a local Albanian from the village of Radusha in February this year. The public ombudsman, Boris Naumovski, described the incident as an act of torture. The perpetrators were sacked, but as soon as the recent political crisis broke out they were reinstated.

Macedonian officials increasingly accept that boosting the number of Albanians in the police force would benefit the government, in terms of the war against crime and, perhaps more importantly, in maintaining good community relations. Afterall, an Albanian policeman patrolling a village populated predominantly by Albanians is less likely to be perceived as an enemy.

Support our journalists