First steps to Balkan peace

The leader of the ethnic Albanians’ armed struggle in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Ali Ahmeti, announced the dissolution of the National Liberation Army (NLA ) last Thursday, from his stronghold in the Sar Planina mountains. Political analysts in Skopje believe the move is aimed at transferring pressure, to abide by the Ohrid accord, to the Slav-Macedonians who are about to vote in Parliament for reforms that will improve the lot of the country’s Albanian population and to grant an amnesty to NLA guerrillas who come home. We have kept our promises and we are expecting the other side to do likewise, said Ahmeti on Friday, adding that he did not even want to think about the possibility of the Slav-Macedonians reneging on what was agreed upon in Ohrid. Ahmeti said the dissolution was not the result of recent international developments, but simply coincided with them as there was a previous agreement with NATO to cease the NLA’s operations and for those under arms to rejoin society. Ahmeti also rejected allegations by the Slav-Macedonians that the NLA had links with Osama Bin Laden and the Islamic terrorists. Determined You surprised everyone with your decision to break up the NLA at a time before the agreement was ratified by the FYROM Parliament. Why did you do it? We had an agreement with NATO and we abided by our promise, on the condition that the other side does also. I believe that we thereby helped the situation and contributed to establishing peace in the region, not heightening tension as some sectors within the state have been doing. We wanted to make a gesture to show our good will and we hope it will draw a similar response from the other side. We are convinced that all our agreements with NATO and other international organizations will be enforced. What will you do if the Slav-Macedonians do renege on the agreement? I believe that they will abide by what they have put their signatures to. I do not even want to think about any other alternative, so I won’t answer that question. You have decided to disband and come down from the mountains, but the other side has not yet granted you amnesty. Logically speaking, they could arrest you, particularly you, yourself, whom they consider a war criminal. Some soldiers have already returned to their homes in areas controlled by police, but they are taking precautions. It is a decision that requires considerable courage, we have that courage. When does the dissolution come into effect? On Wednesday, September 26, as of 12 midnight, that army no longer existed. Will the NLA be completely dissolved or, as some people claim, will some groups of fanatics from the new National Albanian Army stay in the mountains to continue the struggle, since they say they are not satisfied with the Ohrid agreement? There have never been groups of fanatics in the NLA ; everyone will obey the decision and no one will continue fighting. What are you going to do now? Found your own political party? We will put ourselves at the service of our country, Macedonia. We are now at the stage of thinking about how to offer our services to help the state. We are still thinking; we have not arrived at any specific decision. Now that the army has broken up, are you yourself going to leave the mountains to settle in Tetovo, Kosovo, or elsewhere? I will be where you met me before [in Sipkovica, above Tetovo] but in civilian clothes. I might go a bit further down, but within this area. What will happen to the areas controlled until now by the NLA? Will they come under police control? A committee has been set up by NATO and the UN, with observers from the European Union, to monitor these regions and to avert undesirable activity. We believe there won’t be any problems. What is your response to accusations by the Slav-Macedonians that you have links with bin Laden and that Arab mujahedin are fighting in your army? The NLA’s war had no ideological goals. We never had, nor will we ever have, any connection with either the mujahedin or with bin Laden. There have never been foreigners in our army, nor have there been Albanian Muslim fundamentalists. Albanians are low key on these issues. As you know, our nation includes three faiths – Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Catholics – and we are not at all fanatical, as some people are trying to present us. We respect others’ religious and cultural traditions. What is the size of your army and how many weapons did you eventually turn in? We had between 3,000 and 3,500 soldiers and gave up all the weapons we had declared to be in our possession.

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