Bulgaria sends army to Macedonia border
Bulgaria has sent soldiers to its border with Macedonia, where a political crisis is brewing after violence which claimed 22 lives last weekend, Bulgarian PM Boiko Borisov told parliament on Wednesday (13 May).
The measure is meant to stop a possible wave of refugees from the smaller south-western neighbour with which Bulgaria shares centuries of dramatic history and still has unresolved issues.
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The troops are also preparing to prevent potential terrorist attacks, Borisov said.
“The military are at the border, they are preparing [weapon] emplacements in case, God forbid, things in Macedonia worsen,” he said.
A police raid in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo over the weekend resulted in the deaths of 14 ethnic Albanians and eight policemen.
The government of Macedonia’s embattled prime minister Nikola Gruevski said it had encountered terrorists who penetrated from a neighbouring state in an attempt to destabilise the country.
Meanwhile, Gruevski’s interior minister Gordana Jankulovska and security service chief Saso Mijalkovski quit Wednesday because of mounting allegations of illegal wiretapping and intimidation of media.
Borisov said Bulgaria feared turmoil and an ensuing humanitarian crisis in Macedonia, a third of whose 2 million people are ethnic Albanian.
The fragile peace in the country rests on a 2001 accord between the Slavic-speaking majority and the ethnic Albanians which ended an armed conflict between government forces and Albanian guerrillas.
Bulgaria is ready to accept some 90,000 Macedonian citizens who hold Bulgarian passports, Borisov said. But he indicated that beefing up border security is meant to contain a potential surge of refugees.
“Those who hold Bulgarian passports … may come to Bulgaria but we should also get ready for a humanitarian crisis”, Borisov said.
He said the army and a special anti-terrorist unit are engaged in joint exercises to hunt terrorists in the mountainous border area.
Bulgarians view Macedonians as their ethnic kin and consider the latter’s language a strain of Bulgarian. Both peoples use the Cyrillic alphabet and understand each other without an interpreter.
But Gruevski has done little to heed EU recommendations to stop anti-Bulgarian rhetoric in politics and media, which the EU commission has repeatedly described as being tightly controlled by his government.
Talks with Bulgaria on a bilateral treaty on good neighbourly relations have ground to a halt as Macedonia’s crisis deepened in recent months.
Bulgaria wants the treaty to solve bilateral problems, such as Skopje's call to recognise a “Macedonian minority” in Bulgaria and questions over the rights of Bulgarians in Macedonia.
Sofia is conditioning its possible consent to opening EU accession talks with Macedonia on the latter’s signing of such a treaty.
Meanwhile, Greece has been blocking the opening of EU talks for the past five years.
Athens wants Macedonia to change its name, which coincides with the name of a northern Greek province and which, Athens says, implies a territorial claim.
Regardless of its six year-old recommendation for the EU to open accession talks with Macedonia, the commission has repeatedly criticised it for insufficient progress on rule of law and respect of fundamental rights, as well as lack of improvement in relations with neighbours.