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North Macedonia Vows to Finally Build Memorials to Troops Killed in 2001

The Defence Ministry said in a statement on Monday that it has finally found a way to circumvent legal and political obstacles created by local municipalities where members of security forces were killed during the 2001 armed conflict in North Macedonia, and begin the process of building three memorials to those who died.

The statement said this was made possible after the government on Thursday decided that the land for the monuments should be handed over to the ministry.

“In view of the attempt of the mayors of the municipalities to which the initiative was submitted to politicise this initiative, Minister of Defence Slavjanka Petrovska, wanting to preserve the image, the work and the sacrifice of the fallen defenders, started a procedure that does not require the consent of the municipalities, and will enable the construction of these monuments at the mentioned locations,” the statement explained.

The idea to build the three memorials, located in what were frontline areas in the municipalities of Tetovo, Zhelino and Butel during the 2001 armed conflict, is not new, but governments have so far failed to make it happen.

Earlier this year, when defence minister Petrovska asked the municipalities of Tetovo, Zhelino and Butel for permits, she did not get a positive response.

The ethnic Albanian opposition mayor of Tetovo, Bilal Kasami, dismissed the request in April.

Minister Pertovska said that “these issues should not divide us, on the contrary, they should remind us of the past so that we do not repeat the same mistakes”, but Kasami replied that erecting a memorial could be discussed only when she and the government start treating both sides of the conflict equally.

Zhelino mayor Blerim Sjediu, another ethnic Albanian, insisted that since the memorial should be built near a highway, she should ask the State Roads Public Enterprise for a permit.

Darko Kostovski, the ethnic Macedonian mayor of Butel, a municipality on the outskirts of the capital Skopje which has an ethnically mixed population, refused to issue a permit, arguing that the Defence Ministry had stolen his idea and that his municipality had already launched a procedure on their own. Kostovski represents the main opposition VMRO DPMNE party.

The brief armed conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents from the National Liberation Army, NLA, and the Macedonian security forces broke out in 2001.

An internationally brokered peace accord that was signed later that year, stopping the conflict from turning into an all-out war and charting the course for more inclusive a multi-ethnic society.

The accord gave more rights to Albanians, who make up about a quarter of the country’s population, including their equitable representation in the security forces.

The ex-fighters were granted an amnesty and shortly afterwards, their leaders formed the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, which has since become the main ethnic Albanian party in North Macedonia and is currently a junior ruling party in the Social Democrats-led government.

The conflict claimed the lives of 68 Macedonian soldiers and police officers, many of whom died in ambushes. The number of insurgent fighters killed remains unconfirmed.

Massacres threatened peace efforts

The three massacres whose victims will be commemorated by the new memorials happened between April and August 2001.

The Vejce massacre happened on April 28, 2001, when ethnic Albanian guerrilla forces ambushed and killed eight security forces members. It took place near the village of Vejce on Shar Mountain that overlooks the north-western town of Tetovo, which at that time was plagued by armed hostilities.

The Karpalak massacre happened on August 8, 2001, when Albanian guerrilla forces ambushed an Army convoy in the area known as Karpalak, on the highway that leads from the capital Skopje to Tetovo, killing ten soldiers.

The Ljuboten incident, also referred to as the Ljubotenski Bacila massacre, happened on August 10, 2001, when an army truck convoy of reservists ran over a landmine near the village of Ljuboten, near the capital Skopje, killing eight people.

In the days that followed, in a police action, ten Albanian civilians were killed in Ljuboten. In 2008, the Hague Tribunal convicted former police officer Johan Tarculovski of war crimes for leading the police unit that committed the atrocities.

The latter two incidents happened when a ceasefire had already been agreed, amid ongoing peace talks.

The troops in Ljuboten and in Karpalak were killed as political party leaders and the then president, the late Boris Trajkovski, were agreeing on the final details of the internationally-brokered Ohrid Framework Accord that ended the brief armed conflict.

Despite immense outrage caused by the attacks, the accord was signed anyway just days after they happened, ending the violence between the now-disbanded insurgent NLA and the Macedonian security forces.

Museum honouring guerillas announced

On the same day as the Defence Ministry announced the building of the three memorials to the troops who died in 2001, the mayor of the Albanian-dominated municipality of Aracinovo, near Skopje, coincidentally announced the construction of a memorial museum dedicated to former NLA fighters.

Ridvan Ibrahimi, a member of the junior ruling DUI party, told local TV 21 on Monday that the municipality is currently considering several locations for the museum.

This would be the third such memorial in the country. A museum has already been opened in the village of Slupcane and a memorial centre dedicated to the NLA was built without all the necessary legal permits in the Aracinovo municipality back in 2005.

In 2001, Aracinovo saw heavy fighting as the village was under prolonged siege by Macedonian security forces. The hostilities there made caused all the ethnic Macedonians, who were a minority in the village, to leave and never return.

There have long been calls to build a memorial to the security forces who lost their lives in Aracinovo as well.

But the head of the small Dostoinstvo (Dignity) political party, which represents security forces veterans, recently said that while inter-ethnic relations are now significantly improved and there are rarely tensions in the village, the idea is unrealistic.

“Today Aracinovo is a village 100 per cent populated by ethnic Albanians from Macedonia and Macedonians go there rarely. It is illusory and impossible to build a monument to the defenders there,” party leader Stojance Angelov told media.

Source : Balkan Insight