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Test of Strength in Kondovo: Can Ahmeti Keep the Peace?

December 6, 2004

( Research Service)- Ali Ahmeti’s promise to preserve Macedonia’s territorial integrity and hard-won peace is facing its biggest test to date today in Kondovo, site of an increasingly ominous Albanian militant presence.

Proving that this is an Albanian “family affair” that can only be solved by broad-based consent, Ahmeti brought along rival DPA Vice-president Menduh Thaci today. According to Skopje’s Channel 77 Radio at around 4 PM CET, Macedonian journalists who descended upon the Skopje-area village in anticipation of the visit of Ahmeti and today got a real red (and black)-carpet welcome –   in the form of hundreds of heavily-armed uniformed Albanian fighters assembled in the main square. There were even armed men monitoring from a school rooftop, with no sign of the official law in site. A far cry from initial Interior Ministry claims weeks ago that depicted the militant presence as being minor.

At 5 PM, Skopje’s Channel 5 reported that some journalists were forced to leave and await the completion of the mission, because the militants thought there were too many, and that this infringed on their operations. While the meeting had been expected to last an hour and a half, by 6:15 the politicians had still not emerged from the heavily-guarded school where the talks were taking place.

While local chieftain Agim Krasniqi is head of the Kondovo militants, several sources agree that his men are being bolstered by insurgents from Kosovo, a few miles over the mountainous border. According to Dnevnik, the main Albanian parties are claiming they have no ties with Krasniqi: first, DUI parliamentarian Rafiz Aliti, ex-NLA “Commandant Masusi,” said he has no knowledge of the situation; second, rivals DPA put out a statement that they have no connections either.

Embarassingly, journalists from Skopje revealed that the last discernable police presence on the way to the village is at “a gas station in Gjorche Petrov,” Skopje’s outlying western suburb.

The militants, who checked journalist IDs as if they were legitimate authorities and prohibited photos that might give away their “positions,” were clearly intending to make an impressive show of strength in support of their prior government claims that the village was only troubled by a handful of criminals, and to frighten both the government and the international community. In classic style learned from the 2001 war, when Ahmeti’s NLA surrounded themselves with EU and US flags, the militants – many of whom are from Kosovo – have demanded to negotiate with internationals.

What, however, could their demands possibly be? Following the defeat of the referendum on November 7, Kondovo looks set to become part of the Skopje municipality, thus clearing the way for the entire city to fall under the dual-language regime desired by Albanians.

And, though the same privilege has not become available for other minorities yet, Albanians today began to receive passports in their own language – a key demand Ahmeti had made last year and for which he had to promise to keep the peace and honor Macedonia’s territorial integrity in return.


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