by Igor K. ILIEVSKI and Ivan BLAZEVSKI
According to police sources, about 100 persons, on both sides, participated in the battle, while the shootout ended with about ten dead and several tens wounded, most of them on the UCK side. The police claims that the two sides are recruiting new fighters and that they are preparing for future clashes. According to unconfirmed information, a bodyguard of Rexhep Dauti, also known as commander Leka, was killed in the battle.
Residents of Tetovo claim that about twenty strong detonations could be heard between 11 and 12 p.m., coming from Mala Recica, while the noise of infantry weaponry could be heard throughout the night. According to sources from Mala Recica, the house in which the Coordination Council of Albanians in Macedonia had been presented to the public was destroyed in the fighting. The Council elected Ali Ahmeti yesterday as its president. Several nearby houses were damaged in the battle. International observers and soldiers of the "Fox" mission failed to make it to the scene of fighting yesterday, but NATO helicopters were seen flying above. Representatives of the international community were in touch with Ahmeti throughout the night, and were inquiring about the gravity of the incident.
Yesterday, it could be heard in international organizations in Skopje that AKSh may be holding several UCK hostages.
According to our sources, the fighting started when the so-called commander Xhaxhi, a resident of the village of Lisac named Enver, attempted to kill Ali Ahmeti at the Coordination Council headquarters in Mala Recica. Ahmeti managed to avoid the assassination attempt unhurt. The big battle was preceded by several skirmishes at the AKSh and UCK headquarters in Mala Recica, Kamenjane and Sipkovica. According to some speculations, the clash in Mala Recica was not surprising because during the day several armed individuals, members of one of the two paramilitary organizations, had come to the village.
Yesterday, AKSh issued its press release number 14, which states that a group of young volunteers joined the formation yesterday at about 1:30 p.m.
"Mercenary gangs, led by Daut Rexhepi - Leka, Samedin Xhezairi - Hoxha, Sadri Fazliu and other criminals, caught the volunteer freedom fighters near Mala Recica, next to Tetovo, and beat them up, together with their taxi drivers. Also, they attempted to deliver the volunteers to Macedonian forces.
"Six hours later, AKSh units attempted to rescue their brothers from the criminals who had captured them, but at 9:30 p.m. they started shooting at the AKSh units. This barbaric behavior forced AKSh units to shoot back in defense, which resulted in the death of three members of these criminal gangs," concludes the AKSh press release.
In the attack, according to the AKSh, it lost its "soldier" Avni Beqiri (23) from the village of Acarevo, near Drenica, while "fighter Roki" from Tetovo was wounded.
AKSh also announced that its "freedom fighters had earlier experienced such a-national acts". The release was signed by the supreme commander of the AKSh, Hekuran Aslani, and the high political commissar Valdet Vardari.
Serbian news agency BETA yesterday carried a statement issued by the UCK, which claims that the incident occurred when seven AKSh members from the village of Lisec arrived to Mala Recica and attacked several former UCK members. According to the statement, the UCK announced that it "would attempt to identify seven attackers and would demand that they be expelled from Macedonia".
"We have no concrete information about what transpired in Mala Recica. We regret the incident," Zahir Bekteshi, the PDP spokesperson, stated yesterday.
Representatives of the international community yesterday condemned the incident and stated that they did not know what precisely had taken place in Mala Recica, since they had contradictory information about the incident. NATO sources claim that the incident was "most likely caused by a small group of AKSh extremists who oppose the UCK and constructive cooperation of Ali Ahmeti".
NATO representatives suspect that the former UCK attempted to isolate the radical group that had proclaimed a liberated territory in the village of Lisec and intended to cross to Kosovo. This attempt failed yesterday and it is assumed that AKSh extremists contacted their supporters in the UCK, which started the clashes.
According to Raim Thaci, director of the Medical center in Tetovo, the body of Dashmir Mustafi (34) from the village of Poroj, near Tetovo, was brought to the center yesterday before noon. Mustafi had died in Mala Recica, from head wounds suffered in a grenade explosion.
Thaci confirmed that about 10:30 p.m. three seriously wounded persons had been brought to the hospital. One of them, Florim Asani (23) from Mala Recica, quickly succumbed to injuries, while the other two, Abdulnaser Mustafi (32) from Mala Recica and Musli Ibraimi (20) from Zerovjane received medical treatment.
At about 2:30 in the morning, wounded Murat Sulejmani (29) from Skopje was brought to the Medical Center in Tetovo.
"The three wounded persons were kept for treatment and are in stable condition. No other wounded persons have been brought to the medical center and so far we haven't received any requests for medical assistance in Mala Recica," doctor Thaci said. Unofficially, we learned that most of the wounded were treated at the medical institution "Galaksija" in Mala Recica, where they received first aid.
Due to yesterday's incident, mixed political patrols, following a recommendation by the OSCE, did not patrol villages of Mala and Golema Recica, Kalnik and Gorno Palciste, near Tetovo.
"The Council is still working on identifying other persons and continues to advocate the full implementation of the framework agreement," the statement says.
The Council, presided by Ahmeti, yesterday announced that it had learned that "smugglers, drug addicts, criminals, failed politicians and misled persons involved in secret anti-Albanian structures" had been involved in the attack.
The statement claims that the goal of the group was to eliminate distinguished members of the Council and to make its functioning impossible, right after it has produced its initial results, according to Ahmeti.
The Coordination Council called on Albanians to show restraint.
by Dejan NIKOLOVSKI
The three floor building that housed the recently established Coordination Council of Albanians shows clear signs of destructive power of hand-launched rockets, "Zolja" [wasp], and rifle-launched grenades. A burnt house, destroyed car and damaged facades on tens of nearby buildings testify about the fierceness of the battle.
The headquarters of the Coordination Council was yesterday protected by tens of armed ethnic Albanians, members of the former UCK. The street leading to the headquarters was blocked with garbage containers, barring access to "uninvited guests".
After the fighting in Mala Recica, more than 200 armed persons were immediately mobilized to guard the UCK headquarters in the village of Sipkovica, due to the danger of an assassination attempt on Ali Ahmeti.
According to sources in intelligence services, a day before the incident AKSh members "on their territory in Golema Recica" arrested several UCK members, who were found in possession of about 30 kilograms of heroin. That prompted these two paramilitary organizations to initiate urgent mobilization of their followers and to prepare for a showdown. The local ethnic Albanian population did not respond significantly to the call to arms, due to confusion, and split loyalties.
OSCE observers yesterday assessed that the security was such that police patrols should be suspended. Consequently, yesterday the Police did not enter Mala Recica and was unable to conduct a crime scene investigation on the spot of the incident. We have learned that the Police was offered to use evidence collected by NATO in its investigation, since yesterday only "Foxes" had access to the area.
by Ivan BLAZEVSKI
"At the time efforts to establish public order and security are made, criminals who were unknown until yesterday, but were identified yesterday, killed the sons of our people at the headquarters of the Coordination Council in Mala Recica," says the statement signed by Ali Ahmeti, who became the president of the council four days ago.
The statement emphasizes that those responsible for horrendous murders are killers of "the Albanian being" and all those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the Albanian nation.
"These persons continue to present danger for our holy cause," Ahmeti writes in the statement.
Representatives of the ethnic Albanian political parties yesterday expressed regret in connection with the "disturbing events" in the Tetovo region.
According to the political sources, the most likely motivation for the Monday clash between the UCK and AKSh should be sought in finances. The sources claim that Ahmeti has surrounded himself by suspicious individuals who "are more interested in activities unrelated to the framework agreement," so that some discontents are trying to get a portion of the business by force.
Xhevat Ademi, secretary general of the National-Democratic Party, said that his party was horrified by the bloody incident.
"It could not have been any worse, an Albanian shooting at other Albanians. This is the biggest slap to our shared efforts to achieve new standards and to bring ethics back to politics and to the society," says Ademi, who is a former UCK member.
The PDP believes that the clash between two groups of ethnic Albanians was the work of discontents who want to create instability.
"A possible start of some sort of spring offensive would be harmful to all. Some people who are not satisfied with achieved solutions for some open issues are behind this," said Mersell Bilalli from the PDP.
The DPSh yesterday expressed regret in connection with the incident, but declined to say anything else. According to the DPSh, the Coordination Council, as a non-political institution representing all ethnic Albanians should take a stand regarding the incident.
"We continue to support the peace process and the Ohrid agreement. We shall not deviate from that view," Zamir Dika from the DPSh said.
The SDSM is concerned that the whole country may end up being pulled into intra-Albanian, tribal, criminal or political conflicts.
"We are seriously concerned, but at the same time definitively not surprised by the incident in Mala Recica. We were aware that those who used weapons once, would resort to them again in the future. This brings into question the semi-illegal Coordination Council of Albanians and the claim that ethnic Albanians in Macedonia are united in their political views. The differences among them are so large that some of them are convinced that violence is needed to unify their political views," says Nikola Popovski. According to Popovski, it is now clear that ethnic Albanians do not accept the framework agreement and that paramilitary formations have been neither truly disbanded nor disarmed.
Cedomir Kraljevski from the VMRO-DPMNE believes that the NATO and other international organizations have the obligation to secure peace in the country.
"Albanian leaders and commanders of armed formations should explain these conflicts. Clashes should not affect the implementation of the framework agreement," Kraljevski assessed.
The attack took place at about 1 a.m., when eight masked persons, armed by hand-held rocket launchers "RPG" and "Kastel" and with heavy machine guns opened fire on the house number 49 in the Yugoslav People's Army street in Tetovo, owned by Thaci, deputy president of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPSh). Five vehicles were damaged in the shootout, while many bullets ended up lodged in the walls of nearby houses. The street-facing side of the café bar "Dora" on the first floor of Thaci's house, was totally destroyed. According to speculations, four of Thaci's bodyguards were seriously wounded, one of them fatally. The director of the Tetovo medical center, Raim Thaci, claims that the hospital did not receive any patients with firearm wounds during the night. There is no information whether Thaci was injured.
The practice in recent armed clashes was to send lightly injured persons to the private medical institution "Galaksija" in Mala Recica.
Policemen who conducted the crime scene investigation seven hours later announced that they would file charges against Thaci's bodyguards, since they obstructed the investigation. From the sources in the Tetovo police we learned that after the street clash, Thaci's bodyguards cleaned the street, washing away blood. By yesterday morning, the car with license plate TE-088-AP, make Volkswagen "Golf 2", hit by a shoulder fired missile, and the car with license plate TE-668-BN, make "Opel Vectra", both of which were used to block the street, hadn't been moved. Another two cars, a white BMW and black "Opel calibra", both of them peppered by bullet holes, stood in front of café bar "Dora". Owners of these cars are DPSh members. One more car, parked nearby , was damaged in the shootout. The Police did not exclude the possibility that the attackers were members of the Albanian National Army (AKSh). The Police suspects that the attack was led by Izair Samii from Semsovo, who was recently paroled. According to the initial police information, the incident took place when eight marked persons, well armed, got out of cars and attacked Thaci's house. Two of the attackers entered the Tetovo city hall, located across the street from Thaci's house, and broke into the office of the head of city planning. The window of the office looks directly at the "Dora" café bar. We have learned that the attackers deliberately picked this office and thoroughly vandalized it in protest against the recent decision of the city planning office to grant land plots on the city outskirts to ten former National Liberation Army (UCK) commanders. The office was used to shoot at the café bar and Thaci's house. At the time of the attack Thaci was inside the house with his associates. His bodyguards fired back at the attackers from machine guns and hand guns. Thaci's bodyguards managed to park two cars across the street during the shootout and thereby bock the street and block access to the house. However, the attackers hit one of the cars, "Golf", with a shoulder fired missile, while the other car was peppered with bullets.
The police claims that at least three shoulder fired missiles were used in the shootout. After the conclusion of the clash, the attackers drove away towards Blagoje Toska street. Thaci's bodyguards pursued the attackers and shot at their getaway vehicles. The chase and shooting continued towards the train station, then towards the market, until the attackers finally managed to escape close to the sports center.
The Tetovo police conducted a crime scene investigation six hours after the end of the shootout, but Thaci's bodyguards had removed blood traces in the meantime.
People living near the house number 49 say that this was not the first shootout in front of the "Dora" café bar.
"It was like a real war. One could hear shooting and detonations. Seven days ago, there was another shootout, in which hand guns were used, and a car chase. We haven't had peace ever since Thaci moved here," neighbors complained. They were fearful after the incident and refused to introduce themselves.
By the way, café bar "Dora" in Tetovo is known as the unofficial headquarters of the ruling DPSh in the city.
NATO and OSCE representatives confirmed the incident, but said that they did not know whether anyone had been wounded or killed in the shootout.
Yesterday, the DPSh refused to comment on the incident, saying that they would issue an official press release later.
by Katerina BLAZEVSKA
The last two armed clashes in the center of Tetovo have frightened the residents, but haven't reduced the traffic in that part of the city. The street was open for traffic yesterday. The city hall is located in the same street, near the location of the recent incident.
"During the day everything appears normal. But at sundown Thaci's bodyguards block the street and then other rules are valid. Yesterday hardly anyone dared pass there after the dusk," ethnic Macedonians say.
An ethnic Macedonian women, employed at "Nemetalna" says:
"I live on YPA street. The events over the last two days were horrible. We were really scared, as we haven't heard that many detonations in a while".
Ethnic Albanians refuse to talk about the recent events in the city. Their most frequent response is "I don't know", or "I don't want to get in trouble". Those who dare speak for the media, do that surreptitiously.
"There are several versions. Some say that Menduh Thaci took a lot of money that was earmarked for the fighting. Others say he took a $5 million bribe to pull UCK fighters from the fort during the war. Now, people whose relatives died fighting with the UCK want to be compensated, while Thaci has allegedly been hiding and did not want to see them," ethnic Albanians describe rumors making rounds in Tetovo.
More knowledgeable sources, on the other hand, claim that "important political games" are behind the clashes.
"This has nothing to do with the AKSh and extremists! The international community does not like Thaci's business and his links with the criminal underworld."
No one is prepared to say where Thaci's shelter is, but almost every person we talked to was convinced that Thaci will be removed in the near future. Informal headquarters of the DPSh in Tetovo, café bar "Dora" was half empty yesterday, and the atmosphere in the bar was quiet and tense. Guests immediately noticed the arrival of strangers.
Asim Luma, head of the municipal government and a DPSh member, was immediately informed of the presence of journalists "in the area".
"Have you had coffee at ‘Dora'," is how he welcomed us.
According to Luma, he has no idea what is behind nighttime armed clashes, since the local Police has refused to inform him. However, he claims that there were no injuries in these incidents. Broken windows on his office have already been replaced. Luma does not know whether anyone shot at "Dora" from the city hall, since there was no evidence of forced entry to the offices. He emphasized that the windows on the office of the city architect were also broken. He found our claim that Manduh Thaci was the target of the attackers surprising.
"Where did you hear that? That evening, all the important DPSh officials were at the bar. Perhaps, someone else was the target of the attack," Luma said, but refused to say who else could have been the target.
Erdzo Asani, one of two sons of Mujdin Asani, who was shot on Saturday night close to the "forbidden zone", also refused to talk to the media. EU representatives yesterday visited their transportation company "Mujo".
"My father is doing better after a surgery. He will be released from the hospital in five days. He has no idea who shot at him. His friend, who was with him in the car, also has no idea who shot at them. They did not see anything," Erdzo says.
He claims that his dad was not a member of any ethnic Albanian political party, nor had any connection with politics.
"If he decided to join a political party, he would join the Democratic Party of Turks. We are ethnic Turks, we are not Albanians," young Erdzo said and went back to work.
Other youths could be seen in cafes in the center of the city, where they hang out until 7 p.m. That's when the unofficial curfew stars, everyone turns in to his or her "lair" and hopes for the best. Although the official curfew has been abolished a while ago, these days it is nevertheless observed by many residents of Tetovo.
As the media have already reported, at the time Boskovski, attempting to prove that nothing was going on in the area, together with Elmazi set out to set up a temporary police station and to take humanitarian assistance to the village of Brest. Along the way the police convoy was ambushed and the policeman Goran Stojanovski from Kriva Palanka was killed. After this incident, Boskovski, Elzmazi and the under-secretary of the Police, General Aleksandar Doncev, started negotiations and surrendered all the equipment that was originally earmarked for the new police station. A week later, General Doncev was dismissed. Unofficially, the excuse was his "inappropriate order to the members of the police unit during the attack near Brest, when he ordered them to stand at attention near the road and thereby protect Boskovski and Elmazi".
After the publication of the interview with Hoxha, first the Police spokesperson, Voislav Zafirovski, uninvited denied Hoxha's claims, saying that the policemen were not captured, nor did minister negotiate with "scum led by Hoxha".
Besides the Police, DPSh activists joined the "fight" to destroy all evidence of Shakiri's claims. On Saturday, in Tetovo and Kumanovo they bought or confiscated all copies of Start they could find at newsstands. "According to information at our disposal, copies of Start were confiscated because of the interview with Xhezair Hoxha, UCK commander, who openly discussed suspicious roles of some UCK commanders who are now DPSh members," said the editor-in-chief of Start Tomislav Ivanovski.
In the interview Shakiri said that the current DPMNE and DPSh are parties of traitors and criminals. "When we fought, Menduh Thaci and Arben Xhaferi were against us, and now, every time they meet they solemnly give respects to fallen fighters. They used us to divide Macedonia together with the DPMNE. Valoni, and Leka from Poroj, are today officials of that very same DPSh, because of which we fought," said commander Hoxha. Later in the interview Shakiri said that activists of the DPSh were infiltrated in the ranks of the UCK, as spies working for the minister of internal affairs (Police) Ljube Boskovski. "Their whole party is a party of policemen. They buy everything. They only care about money." Arben Xhaferi and Ljubco Georgievski, according to the commander, together with a non-governmental organization from Bulgaria, were getting ready to re-tailor Macedonia and then to divide it. Shakiri said in the interview that the disbanded UCK will prevent the implementation of Thaci's and Boskovski's assassination plans in the run up to the forthcoming elections. "If necessary we shall serve as a living shield; we'll not allow vote rigging; we'll make sure people can vote".
Regarding the incident in Brest, Sakiri said that the mayor of Aracinovo, Reshad Ferati, was in the village that day as well.
"That's right, I was there, but my task was to bring humanitarian assistance to the villagers. It is also true that late in the afternoon it was announced that minister Ljube Boskovski and Rifat Elmazi would come to the village. A shootout started. Both sides shot. But, I really have no idea what happened afterwards," Ferati says.
Hisni Shaqiri, representative in the parliament who joined the UCK, was also present in Brest. However, he refused to comment on Hoxha's assertions. Rifat Elmazi said that Hoxha's assertions were pure fabrications.