Macedonian government propaganda
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Fighter in the Macedonian UCK, Vadedin Ibrahimi, 29, shows me one of the 700 destroyed houses in the village of Slupcane. Macedonian shelling has hit every house in the city.
Last Tuesday, I was able to visit the Albanian village of Slupcane. Macedonian police has put up road blocks preventing journalist and others from entering rebel territory, but together with a Dutch colleague, I was able to bypass a check point on small dirt roads with the help of a local Albanian. The visit was not without risk. A bit over a week ago, the car of BBC journalist Nick Wood was blown to pieces in Slupcane. But I was not very afraid of the UCK rebels. The greater risk was being blown up by a Macedonian artillery shell. The Macedonian forces seems to have no aim or clear plan with their shelling.
I think I made the right decision bypassing the Macedonian check points. The Macedonians does not give you any reliable information, and when I talked to the spokesman for the Macedonian defense ministry, Gjorgi Trendafilov, he lied to my face. Of course I'm not very happy about that, and I think you should know the truth about the lying Macedonian government propaganda.
Trendafilov and the Macedonian government claims that they only fire on legitimate targets, but that was not my experience in Slupcane. In this village there are 700 houses, and I was not able to see one house that was not hit by artillery shells, mortars, tank grenades, fire from helicopter gun ships or heavy machine guns.
The Macedonian UCK is well organized, and they have even organized a military police unit. In this car the rebels have two Macedonian civilians and one Macedonian soldier taken hostage.
This point is emphasized when I could see dozens of dead cows and horses on the fields around and in Slupcane. These animals had been blown to pieces by Macedonian artillery shells or other long range heavy weapons. The Albanians in Slupcane claim that 389 animals have been killed in this way. To me it seems like the Macedonian government shells the city to convince their own population that they do something to quell the rebellion. But this long range shelling is good for nothing else than strengthening the resolve of the UCK rebels to continue the fight.
Does this mean that I support the fight of the UCK? By no means. I think these people should lay down their weapons, and I wouldn't blame the Macedonian government for taking them out. One thing I will give the rebels, they are very careful in their target selection, and so far they have avoided killing any civilians. But when that is said, they have used their killings as terrible acts of provocation. One example is the killing and mutilation of the bodies of the eight Macedonian soldiers being killed some weeks ago. I guess the rebels were smart enough to know that the Macedonian government would react the way they do.
The situation is especially difficult for the children in Slupcane and little Qevdresa (18 months) has been crying for three days. These people have been in their basements for over two weeks.
On the way into Slupcane, I saw some rebel checkpoints, but I could not see any trace of shelling of these positions. To me that indicates terrible intelligence from the Macedonians. All it would take would be a couple of armored personnel carriers, tanks and helicopter gun ships supported by infantry to take out the check points and surround the rebel-held villages. One thing is for sure: You cannot defeat the UCK with artillery only.
The last couple of days, I've been in Bujanovac in Southern Serbia, and I've seen a totally different response to armed Albanian rebels than what we see in Macedonia. To give you some background information, the Serbs are allowed to enter the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ) on Thursday, and the Serbs invite the press to go in with them. This bufferzone is 5 km wide, and it was created to prevent a surprise attack from the Serbs against KFOR. When the Serbs retook the village of Orahovica close to Presevo that was described as a text-book counter insurgency operation. The Serbs did not destroy the village, but they were able to defeat the Albanian rebels.
In the southern part of the buffer zone, I did not see any trace of the Albanian rebels because they had deserted their positions, and elsewhere in the bufferzone, rebels had taken off their uniforms on the check points. I think that is a sign that they might desert and surrender to KFOR. However, I'm not sure if Albanian rebels elsewhere in the GSZ will give up without a fight, and I think many of them will offer their skills to the UCK in Macedonia.
But even if they put up some resistance, I do not think they have much chance against the Serbian forces. That was also the view of the chief of the Bujanovac press center, Ljubomir Podunavac
"We have a better army than the Macedonians, and unfortunately we have experience," he told me adding that the Macedonians fire on everything. "We will only use the necessary force, and we will not destroy villages." he said.
Podunavac was one of those opposed to the Serbian campaigns in Bosnia and Croatia, but now he thinks the Albanian rebels are doing the same in the Presevo Valley as the Serbs did in other wars. "I'm getting depressed when I see those kind of people on both sides," he said as he was showing me pictures of the victims of the Albanian rebels on his computer.
This member of the rebel movement in the Presevo Valley is only 16 years old, but he sympathised with the rebels in Macedonia.
"The Macedonians are free to stop the former rebels from entering Macedonia, but we will not give them the names," KFOR Spokesman Major Axel-Bernd Jandesek told me.
Unfortunately, the KFOR commander giving this offer to the rebels is a Norwegian. It could backfire badly.
Kristian Kahrs, freelance journalist
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Norwegian mobile: +47 93 00 25 22
Filtering Macedonian government propaganda
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