Pristina,May 20, 2001

sorryserbia.com

Filtering Macedonian government propaganda

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.
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.
One of the most important jobs for a journalist is to filter the information coming from the different parties, and in the last week I have been following the conflict between the Macedonian government and the Albanian rebel group UCK based in Northern Macedonia. There is a lot of disinformation on all sides, but I am not at all impressed with the Macedonian government's way of handling information. I cannot trust anything from them.

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.
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.
Even if Trendafilov is the defense ministry spokesman, he has no idea how a military operation works. Listen to what he said to me: "A couple of days ago I was over Slupcane in helicopter, and I didn't see many houses that were destroyed." I would be most happy to buy Mr. Trendafilov a couple of glasses to make him see the reality better. This man claimed that they were able to take out rebel positions in the second floor of a house with artillery fire to spare the civilian population on the first floor!!! Saying something like that, Mr. Trendafilov reveals his ignorance about military operations. You use artillery to shell an area, not to take out individual targets.

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.
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.
President Boris Trajkovski claims that the rebels use their civilian population as human shields. He is only partly right. In Slupcane I was also able to see the civilian population of about 4000 people seeking shelter in the basements. These civilians are there more or less voluntarily in the basements. The sense of community in these villages is quite strong, and it is difficult for them to make an individual decision to evacuate. My experience with these villagers is that most of them believe that the UCK is fighting for their rights. But even if the local population support the UCK, that does not mean that women and children becomes legitimate targets of Macedonian artillery shelling.

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.
This member of the rebel movement in the Presevo Valley is only 16 years old, but he sympathised with the rebels in Macedonia.
What's going to happen to the rebels when the Yugoslav forces move in on Thursday, I'm not sure about, but I think many of them will run to Kosovo and then on to Macedonia to join the Macedonian UCK. Both the Yugoslav authorities and KFOR give an amnesty for the rebels giving up their arms before Thursday, provided that they haven't committed any crimes. The difference between the Yugoslav authorities and KFOR is the cooperation with the Macedonian government. KFOR and NATO say that they support Macedonia, but all they do with the rebels coming out of the GSZ is to register their name and let them go wherever they want. KFOR does not give the names of the former rebels to the Macedonians.

"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.

Sincerely  
--
Kristian Kahrs, freelance journalist
Homepage:
http://home.no.net/kkahrs
Yugoslav mobile: +381 638 504 383
Kosovo mobile: +377 44 186 527
Norwegian mobile: +47 93 00 25 22
 

Back to Newsletters

sorryserbia.com