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Mujahedin Camps Spotted in Mountains Below Skopje, Newspaper Says

September 18, 2005

( Research Service)- According to the Macedonian daily Dnevnik on 14 September, several hikers and weekenders visiting a Skopje-area mountain recently witnessed what they believed to have been a terrorist training camp.

Unconfirmed eyewitness accounts claimed that a group of black-clad, armed militants were spotted in the presence of Arab foreigners on Mt. Kitka, a 1,569 meter-high peak south of the capital, set in a vast expanse of wilderness west of the River Vardar.

One Macedonian man who visited the mountain this past weekend told the newspaper that “…the mountaineering hut on Kitka is like a military base.” He claimed that when he hiked towards it, he found the hut was being used “…by some people with weapons in black uniforms… they told us that we can’t go in the mountain house because it is not free.”

While the local forestry manager and the police demanded more information, the allegation was angrily refuted by Petar Bocvarov, manager of the mountain hut: “…I go there twice a week, and I haven’t seen anyone with guns,” stated Bocvarov. He claimed that the unsettling rumors were being spread by “a group of mountaineers, liars who want to make up something”- apparently, for fun or to get their 15 minutes of fame. However, considering that none of the witnesses have given their names, the latter motive seems unlikely.

Indeed, further testimonial collected by the paper contradicts this statement. “…Three weeks ago, I went with my family to Mt. Kitka,” said one unidentified middle-aged man for Dnevnik. “There we saw groups of 30 people who were sitting under a tree, and one of them, tall with a long black beard, was reading some book to the others. Near them was one tent. When they saw our car, the group just disappeared. I was there for the first time and I didn’t know what was going on. Still, we continued with our weekend. But all afternoon we could hear shooting.”

After running the initial story, Dnevnik says, the editorial office also began to receive phone calls from other mountaineers who had had similar experiences. Some also said that they had heard shooting on Kitka, as well as on Mt. Karadzica further to the west.

According to the paper, these groups included mujahedeen “…who had been seen in Kondovo. They also communicate with the local people through a translator who translates from Arabic.”

Frequent reports of masked gunmen have emerged from other Macedonian hikers, but these have for the most part involved self-styled Albanian ‘liberation’ bands and criminals in the western Sar Planina range above Tetovo. If the new reports are true, it would represent a worrying extension of the militants’ turf, effectively creating a ring around the capital.

It would also mean that the Albanian-populated villages most isolated from the traditional Albanian areas, i.e, those of the central Macedonian mountains, are under the control of militants. This has been stated for us by an independent witness who recalls being chased out of the village of Patiska Reka, the closest point of entry to 1,472 meter-high Mt. Karadzica, by a ‘mad driver’ who tried to impersonate a policeman and stop the car by showing a fake badge.

These events are just more signs that the Macedonian government has been deceiving the world in claiming that the security situation is under control and limited to a few trouble spots. In reality, well armed bands of Albanians, and now, apparently, Islamists are ready to strike from numerous locations simultaneously, and have the ability to destabilize the country overnight.

Of course, the government would like all this to remain hypothetical. And getting to the bottom of these stories is difficult. In Macedonia’s vast wilds, coming across terrorist training camps is like finding a needle in a haystack. Further, several of the nearest road approaches are off-limits, owing to the hostile and armed character of the Albanian villages along the way. No one is expecting journalists or anyone else to go and verify such discoveries.

Despite the brave face put on things by the Kitka manager, if indeed such terrorist activities are going on in the mountains, it would not be for the first time. In late March 2001, at the beginning of the war, the elderly lodgekeeper on Kitka, 77 year-old writer Josif Ilkovski, was brutally killed in cold blood by Albanian terrorists. (Of course, human rights defenders like Carla Del Ponte took no interest in this case).Their message? “We are waiting for you in the forest- UCK.”


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