NEWS

FYROM rebel says the war is over

SIPKOVICA, FYROM – On the eve of the ratification of the framework of the August 13 peace deal in Ohrid between the Slav-Macedonians and ethnic Albanians last week, Ali Ahmeti, political leader of the ethnic Albanians in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) gave Kathimerini an exclusive interview at his headquarters in Sipkovica, in the Sar Planina Mountains above Tetovo. Are you satisfied with what you got from the Ohrid agreement? Yes, we are, although one never gets everything one asks for in negotiations. We did not achieve one of our basic goals, which was the establishment of Albanian as an official language, although this could be debated in future in Parliament. We managed to get equal rights for Albanians who live in this state called Macedonia, as citizens of this state and not some other. We did all right. Can we assume then that hostilities will cease, or will you keep your arms at the ready for a future secession of a large part of the country and its union with Kosovo and Albania? These are fabrications aimed at distracting the international public as well as those in our own country from our real goals. We do not want the hostilities to continue. We are certain that the war is over and we will respect the agreement. What will happen if the Slav-Macedonian majority in Parliament does not ratify the agreement or tries to amend it. What will happen with those of your fellow ethnic Albanians in the National Liberation Army who do not accept it? I do not believe that the Slav-Macedonian deputies will not ratify it. They have no choice. As far as those of our own people you mention, I myself have never seen them. I would like to talk to them but I have not yet been able to find them. We not only disagree with them, but we are remaining vigilant to avert provocations. This is a deliberate move to cause upheaval at this time. On both our side and the government’s, there are those who want to sabotage the peace process. What is your view of an extended stay by the NATO disarmament forces ? We would like the NATO troops to stay until the situation stabilizes. There should be a force to guarantee the implementation of the agreement, otherwise it is in danger of breaking down. Of course, it is not up to us whether the NATO forces extend their stay. You said you had 3,200 weapons to hand over. Do you expect people to believe that you waged the guerrilla warfare with so little? Rumors of huge arsenals are a myth. The authorities here talked about 80,000 guns, others have mentioned 18,000, 8,000 or even 700,000. We did not have the ability to amass so many weapons. Nor did we need to, as we had not planned to wage an all-out war. Our goal was not to seize territory, so we did not need a lot of heavy weaponry. We deliberately did not let the hostilities spread beyond the Tetovo area. Nor was our army large enough. It was a guerrilla struggle over a small area and the weapons were sufficient for that. How do you respond to accusations of ethnic cleansing in areas under your control? There is no ethnic cleansing. Let us take the village of Mateci near Koumanovo, where there were about 100 Slav-Macedonians. They left along with the Albanians in order to escape the bombings. We didn’t chase them away. In fact, there is an Orthodox monastery there, which we are guarding. What about the village of Lesok outside Tetovo, where you forcibly ousted the Slav-Macedonian residents and your people looted their homes? That situation was different. The residents were exploited for political purposes; they joined para-state and paramilitary organizations and fought against us. How did the guerrilla struggle start? This army was the result of the oppression of Albanians by the State. An organization that has a uniform and publicly declared political goals cannot be characterized as terrorist. We did not kill old people, women or children, or unarmed civilians, nor blow up houses. The fact that we used Kosovo as a springboard has been blown out of proportion. Some of us come from there, but they are so few as not to be representative of our guerrilla force. Does your movement have an ideology? Are you a Marxist? Our ideology is patriotism. We are fighting for the rights of the Albanians in Macedonia, our homeland. I personally am not motivated by Marxist ideology, nor have I polled my fellow men on their political beliefs. I am sure that there are both leftists and rightists. Are there plans to make the UCK a political party? We have no such plans for the moment. When the disarmament is over we will see, depending on the situation. If we believe that by entering politics we will help develop democracy, then we will do so. Am I right in assuming that the present legal political leadership does not represent your movement in the political sense? That is true. They have their own programs, their own tactics. We are different. What exactly happened in Aracinovo during your retreat? The Slav-Macedonians accused NATO of spiriting you away when its army was ready to wipe out your forces that had seized it. None of it is true. Our departure from Aracinovo happened when the international community was exerting strong pressure to halt the fighting. The Slav-Macedonians’ sole condition was that we abandon Aracinovo. The NATO representative who was mediating the truce brought us the proposal, we accepted it and that is why we left. The threats of one of our local commandants to blow up the city of Skopje from there do not reflect our intentions. That is why we called him to order. What about the statement, attributed to yourself, regarding a Cam, Liberation Army? I never made any such statement. It was fabricated by people who chose to spread it via Australia, where a large number of fanatic Slav-Macedonians live. I wrote to (Foreign Minister) George Papandreou and was pleased to see that Greece’s stance changed for the better. We recognize the important role Greece plays in the region. , Cam – pronounced Cham- ethnic Albanians who were expelled from Greece after World War II for collaborating with the Nazi occupation forces.