NEWS

FYROM braces for rise in separatist violence

SKOPJE – The authorities in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are expecting an increase in ethnic Albanian separatists’ activities, particularly from the Albanian National Army (ANA), an underground militant group which wants to unify the ethnic community throughout the Balkans. A recent increase in violence, claimed by the ANA, could be linked to expected negotiations between Serbia and ethnic Albanian leaders in the UN-run Kosovo, a senior FYROM official said. «We will assist the start of this process that would lead to a definition of Kosovo’s status, something everyone in the Balkans is interested in,» the official, who did not want to be named, told AFP in Skopje. But «for the Albanians in the region, a final countdown, but backward one, will begin,» the official insisted. The ANA guerrillas say they want to establish, through war if necessary, a state grouping all ethnic Albanians living in the region: in Albania, Kosovo, FYROM, southern Serbia and Montenegro. FYROM officials, faced with the recent wave of attacks, fear further violence. The clandestine group is «well-implanted in the region,» with its «armed» cells in the field, mainly in Kosovo and with a «liaison officer» in Albania, the official said. «Some of the fighters operate in uniform,» he said. The radical militants first appeared in 2000, grouping some former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a guerrilla movement fighting troops under the command of ex-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in the 1998-99 Kosovo war. Following the end of the NATO air war against Belgrade in June 1999, international officials administering the southern Serbian province ordered a dissolution of the KLA, but some of its most militant fighters reportedly joined the ANA. In 2001, ANA fighters were said to have joined ethnic Albanian rebels of the Macedonia-based guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (NLA), clashing with Skopje security forces over seven months of conflict which almost led the republic to civil war. The conflict ended with the Western-brokered peace accord between the main FYROM and ethnic Albanian parties in August 2001, but ANA separatists denounced the agreement and reaffirmed their resolve to «liberate» the Albanians from «Serb and Macedonian colonialists.» The ANA was classified as a terrorist organization by the UN’s administration of Kosovo after it claimed responsibility for the sabotage of a railway bridge in the north of the province in April. Most Albanian politicians in the region have distanced themselves from the group, composed of disparate factions, often linked with organized crime, and lacking support within its ethnic community. Many Albanians, however, fear a «reactivation» of the rebel groups in FYROM, warning of a «lack of will» from the Skopje government to «substantially» improve their living conditions. They warn that the extremist movements could escalate their campaigns even in Kosovo if the international community complies with Belgrade’s refusal to recognize ethnic Albanian calls for independence. And the ANA guerrillas have remained firm in their calls to unite all ethnic Albanians living in the Balkans. «The formation of an ethnic Albanian state is the only solution to ensure stability in the Balkans and we will intensify our efforts to achieve this goal,» the ANA said in a recent statement.