Monday

17th Jun 2019

Macedonia violence prompts EU appeal for calm

  • Kumanovo: scene of 2001 ethnic clashes which almost caused civil war (Photo: Bojan Rantasa)

The EU, the US, and Nato have urged calm in Macedonia after a firefight with “terrorists” in which 22 people died and which threatens to ignite ethnic tension.

The fighting, over the weekend, cost the lives of eight policemen and 14 gunmen.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Thirty seven policemen were injured, with authorities saying the death toll could rise. Thirty or so people were arrested.

EU officials contacted by EUobserver say they have little reliable information on what happened.

The incident took place in an ethnic Albanian district of Kumanovo, a town 40km north of Skopje.

It was claimed by a group calling itself the National Liberation Army (NLA), which is thought to be linked to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the Kosovar guerrilla force which fought Serbia in the 1990s.

The NLA also claimed responsibility for an attack on a Macedonian police station in Goshnice, near the Kosovo border, in October. But it has never published a manifesto or a list of demands.

Macedonian authorities say the Kumenovo group entered the country in early May and planned to attack state institutions, sport events, and shopping malls.

Ivo Kotevski, an interior ministry spokesman, said some of them wore KLA insignia but none of them had ID documents.

President Gorge Ivanov, who cut short his visit to Russia, said on TV: “Police have prevented co-ordinated terrorist attacks at different locations in the country that would have caused serious destabilisation, chaos, and fear”.

Prime minister Nikola Gruevski pointed to a jihadist explanation, saying some of them had combat experience in the Middle East.

He tried to calm ethnic tension. “This is not a Macedonian-Albanian conflict”, he said on TV, adding that “[police] officers from all ethnic groups” took part in the operation.

The Kumanovo region was, in 2001, the scene of inter-ethnic clashes which almost led to civil war prior to the Nato-brokered Ohrid Agreement, a power-sharing accord between Macedonians and Albanians, who count for 30 percent of the population.

The weekend’s violence prompted international appeals for calm.

Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said: “It is important that all political and community leaders work together to restore calm and conduct a transparent investigation”.

The EU’s neighbourhood commissioner, Joahnnes Hahn, noted: “I urge all actors for utmost restraint. Any further escalation must be avoided."

The EU, US, Nato, and OSCE missions in Macedonia added in a joint statement “the armed group in Kumanovo is an isolated phenomenon. We strongly believe that it must not be allowed to harm relations within society”.

Kosovo also condemned “the violation of order and security by any individual or group with destabilising aims in Macedonia”.

To make matters worse, the incident took place amid a crisis of confidence in Gruevski’s ruling VMRO-DPMNE party.

The Macedonian opposition, the SDSM party, has, in recent weeks, published a series of wire-tapped conversations implicating VMRO-DPMNE members in criminal activity.

The list includes: the cover-up of a police killing of an anti-government protester, 21-year old Martin Neskovski; manipulation of judges; electoral fraud; and financial mismanagement.

The revelations are believed by EU officials to come from an opposition mole in the intelligence services who rebelled over the goverment’s snooping activities.

But Gruevski's timing of the Kumenovo operation, one week before an anti-government rally on 17 May, has prompted popular theories that it was designed to quash anti-government feeling.

Opinion

Breaking Macedonia's vicious circle

Like its Balkan neighbours, Macedonia is no stranger to street unrest, but public anger is beginning to spiral out of control.

Tens of thousands urge Macedonia PM to go

Tens of thousands of protestors on Sunday called for the resignation of Macedonian leader Gruevski - the biggest demonstration in 24 years of independence.

Opinion

EU options on the Macedonia crisis

Corruption, ethnic power struggles, Russian meddling: Macedonia risks dragging the Western Balkans backward. But the EU has options.

Opinion

Does Hahn get the Macedonia crisis?

Last week’s statement by Hahn on Macedonia’s election record comes at a terrible time and gives the impression he's out of touch with reality.

Opinion

The dangers of resurgent nationalism in Greece

Virulent nationalism in Greece has been stirred up in the context of austerity and renewed negotiations with Macedonia. Recent attempts by the government to address the inequalities suffered by LGBT persons have also been met with a reactionary backlash.

News in Brief

  1. EU plans to restructure eurozone bonds
  2. EU ups US imports in beef deal
  3. Unicef: UK among 'least family-friendly' in Europe
  4. Czech PM: No joint 'V4' candidate in commission race
  5. Johnson tops first round to replace May, three eliminated
  6. Bratislava will host new European Labour Authority
  7. Juncker cautions against further climate goals
  8. Study: Counterfeit medicine is a 'growing threat' in EU

Analysis

EU should stop an insane US-Iran war

"If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!", US president Donald Trump tweeted on Monday (20 May).

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. 'Russian sources' targeted EU elections with disinformation
  2. Top EU jobs summit dominates This WEEK
  3. EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit
  4. MEP blasts Portugal over football whistleblower
  5. Catalonia MEPs are a judicial, not political, issue
  6. Meet the lawyer taking the EU migration policy to the ICC
  7. Europe's oil supplies 'at risk' after tanker attacks
  8. EU paths fork for Albania and North Macedonia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us