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'Sunday Times (London)'
Sunday 10 June 2001
"Macedonia on brink of war"
Tom Walker Diplomatic Correspondent
WESTERN intelligence officers say ethnic Albanian rebels are massing
for an imminent civil war in Macedonia.
Military intelligence reports describe forces of about 1,000 men in the
north of the fractious republic, commanded by a former French
legionnaire who uses the nom de guerre of Hoxha. In the west another 300
freshly trained recruits came across the border from neighbouring Kosovo
last week, boosting numbers there to 800 armed and uniformed fighters.
Nato officials keeping an anxious eye on the on-off fighting said the
rebels of the so-called National Liberation Army (NLA) were better
equipped and more disciplined than their forebears in the Kosovo
Liberation Army (KLA) which fought Slobodan Milosevic's forces in the
southern Serbian province.
The rebels have obtained modern American-made Stinger shoulder-launched
missiles, along with more rudimentary Russian-made Sam-7 missiles.
Embarrassingly for the alliance, they are making use of maps issued by
Nato for the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) which it supervises across
Hundreds of KPC reservists were called up by their Albanian commander,
Agim Ceku, in March. They subsequently disappeared to former KLA
training camps in Albania and are now re-emerging in Macedonia.
"There's plenty of money around and they've got good weapons," a Nato
planner said. "But we're hoping they've got the sense not to start
shooting down Macedonian helicopters. If they do there'll be terrible
Macedonia's coalition government came close to declaring war after five
Macedonian soldiers died in an ambush last Tuesday, but President Boris
Trajkovski has heeded European Union calls for calm.
Although the rebels have officially called a ceasefire, the Macedonians
have continued to pound their positions, hoping to keep the fighting
away from the valley floors around Skopje, the capital. Nato is
investigating reports that the Macedonian government has used Su-25
fighter-bombers hired from the Yugoslav army in its bombardment of
Intelligence agents have pinpointed 16 illegal border crossings from
Kosovo used by the NLA, whose rebels have infiltrated as far as
Aracinovo, just six miles from Skopje. A Macedonian police checkpoint
yesterday prevented all but local traffic entering the ethnic Albanian
part of the town, where a group of at least 10 heavily armed guerrillas
was in control.
Last week the NLA murdered an Albanian accused of working with
Macedonian police, a tactic used to intimidate "collaborators" in the
(c) 2001 Sunday Times Reposted For Fair Use Only
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