used without permission, for "fair use" only

Radusa Battle

by Saso ORDANOSKI

Forum, Skopje, Macedonia, December 2, 2004

The 2001 security-political crisis in Macedonia is a watershed moment in the recent history of Macedonia. It marked the end of a phase in the development of the independent Macedonia and a change in the course of that development. The dream about a successful multiethnic democratic model that was being developed in Macedonia (Gligorov's "Oasis of peace") was destroyed in the most unpleasant way. New standards for talks in the development of Balkan democracies and management of inter-ethnic and security crises in the region were set. In Macedonia as well, political violence obtained full political legitimacy as a shortcut for quick achievement of political goals, which would otherwise require years of difficult, persistent and uncertain political struggle.

At the same time, the crisis and its creators and "implementers", both in Macedonia and abroad, suddenly brought to an end the tenure of the VMRO-DPMNE and the DPSh coalition government, contributing to their de facto and political radicalization that has continued until today. On the other hand, new political factors, especially on the Albanian side, have been pushed to the surface, but their political and democratic legitimacy is still uncertain.

In the coming years, the mentioned importance of causes and consequences of the 2001 crisis will most likely be the subject of research by both Macedonian and foreign analysts and politicians. However, none of these analyses can be serious unless first military-political events from the 2001 crisis are analyzed, or at least described.

In the series of events in the 2001 crisis, the "Radusa battle", or whatever could be described by that name today, is an especially important event - both from the military-strategic and political point of view.

During the whole 2001 crisis the strategic importance of Radusa did not go unnoticed, both by ethnic Albanian rebels and the Macedonian security forces.

The village of Radusa lies on the border with Kosovo, next to the unusual "pocket" of the Kosovo territories on the southern border with Macedonia, about 40 kilometers from Skopje, on the right bank of the Lepenac river, at the spot it enters Macedonia. On the Kosovo side of the border, right next to it, we find the village of Krivenik (birthplace of Menduh Thaci [one of DPSh leaders]), while on the Macedonian side of the border there are seven villages in the region - Gracani, Kuckovo, Gorno and Dolno Svilare, Rasce, Dvorce, and Radusa, with altogether about 7000 inhabitants. Six of these seven villages are either 100 percent of overwhelmingly populated by ethnic Albanians, while the centrally situated Kuckovo is an ethnic Macedonian village.

30 kilometers of the border between Macedonia and Kosovo pass to the north from the villages of Gracani and Radusa (between the locales Drum and Cinovac).

The village of Radusa lies in a valley surrounded by the peaks of the Zeden Mountain. The village is reached by road from Jegunovce and Tetovo from the northwest through the Dervenska Gorge. Towards the north an unpaved road goes to Kosovo. That road was used in 1999 during the Kosovo crisis by thousands of helpless refugees who used it to reach Macedonia and were housed in a refugee camp built on a slope above the village of Radusa. Another road, towards Skopje, heads to the south, and passes through a deep gorge near the water sources Rasce and passes through Kondovo and Gorce Petrov on the way to the capital. Next to that road goes the railroad linking Skopje and Kicevo, closely following the flow of the Vardar River.

For centuries Radusa was famous for its chrome mines. The chrome mine in Radusa was established in the 19th century and was exploited by everyone who either passed or in one way or another showed interest in this part of the Balkans: French, Germans, Bulgarians, Serbs, etc. The mine facilities, office and production buildings and equipment, today stand half destroyed and rusted as a silent witness of a failed socio-economic transition through which this country went during the last two decades (the Skopje suburb of Hrom [chrome], close to the factory Kuprom, owes its name and origin to the colony of engineers, miners and other employees who moved during the 60's from Radusa to Skopje). Numerous mining shafts, some of them several hundreds of meters deep, are today either filled in or abandoned. A small artificial lake created by underground water flowing from the mining shafts, is today private property and houses a small fish pond and a humble restaurant. The police station (PS) in Radusa was set up in 1992. It was used for providing "backup security" for the border between Macedonia and Kosovo, as well as for protection of the water spring in Rasce, whose rich water resources, only a few miles from the village of Radusa, quench the thirst of the capital of Macedonia, Skopje.

Over the ten yeast of its existence, this police station was never known for its "attractiveness": part of its crew of 40 was assigned to the station as punishment after various disciplinary and other offenses. Given that the largest part of the "crew" were ethnic Macedonians, the ethnic Albanian environment in which they worked was seen as a "punishment", based on the attitude of the state administration in "pre-Ohrid" Macedonia. However, the border area, problems related to illegal crossings of the border and trans-border smuggling contributed to making the police station Radusa a much more difficult assignment than, for example, police work in the center of one of Macedonian cities.

The local "geostrategic" significance of Radusa does not end with its proximity to the water springs in Rasce or the fact that it is a natural "gate", a strategic corridor for entrance to Macedonia from Kosovo. The Radusa region also separates (or connects, depending on the point of view), Lipkovo and Tetovo border regions [both with ethnic Albanian majority]. All of these elements made sure that Radusa is an important spot on the military maps of the Balkan topography.

In the diary of daily activities of the Radusa Police Station, first armed clashes in that region were recorded in June 2001. Nine serious incidents took place between June 20 and July 5. In these incidents ethnic Albanian extremists targeted either motorized patrols of the Macedonian security forces or their reinforced checkpoints. In these shootouts the extremists used various types of firearms, including sniper rifles, as well as shoulder and rifle fired rockets. On several occasions even mortars were used in the attacks. In the attacks during these two weeks one soldier, one military police conscript and four policemen were lightly wounded, while one policemen suffered grave injuries. In addition, the extremists totally destroyed two all-terrain police vehicles, damaged one armored troop carrier and a few other police vehicles.

Regular daily operations reports of the Macedonian Army (ARM) also confirm such dynamic of the incidents. The ARM deployed on the border with Kosovo one border brigade, and a guard brigade as a backup further away from the border. Towards the end of July ARM strengthened its presence in and around the "hinterland" outpost near Radusa, which at that time included one officer, two junior officers, thirty soldiers, as well as one tank T-55 and a few other military vehicles.

On the other hand, near the border post Caska, several kilometers from Radusa, in August there were 70 soldiers (four professional soldiers and 66 reservists), as well as one reconnaissance and one tank platoon, reinforced by 5 120mm mortars.

After this period, the end of June and early July, there was almost a month of very little activity in the region, which however did not imply the lack of movement through the area. According to our contacts in the ARM and police, ethnic Albanian rebels slowly started to "spread out" across the terrain, increasingly frequently leaving behind their initial camps on the meadows to the northeast from the village of Radusa. Communication with Kosovo was "lively" and uninterrupted, while people and weaponry were transported across the border, unguarded from the Kosovo side.

(For the sake of reconstruction of the 2001 events in September of this year we traveled along the border from Gracani to Radusa, with police escort. On the Kosovo side of the border there was no visible presence of any border security. According to our security forces KFOR "guards" this part of the border by sending twice a day, in irregular intervals, a helicopter on a flyover. Our impression was that it would be relatively easy to illegally cross the border and avoid detection.)

According to documents and testimony of the participants in the events, military clashes around Radusa escalated between August 9 and 11 of 2001. At the same time this period was characterized by increased activities of the National Liberation Army (UCK) everywhere in Macedonia, for the first time since the ceasefire agreement signed by the UCK and Macedonian security forces on July 5 2001. The ceasefire was brokered and guaranteed by NATO. The wider context of the August events should be taken into account, since this was the time immediately after the Framework Ohrid Agreement was reached and before its signing in Skopje. In parallel with the events in Radusa, not far from there, a grave incident took place near the locale named Karpalak, where on August 8 10 reservists of the AMR were killed, while two were gravely wounded. On August 10, on the other hand, near the village of Ljubotenski Bacila, near Skopje, another 8 ARM members were killed by a landmine, while another 8 were wounded in that incident.

It seems that in this period ethnic Albanian extremists, given political developments in Ohrid and international pressure, were resolving the last dilemmas and settling accounts between the supporters of the "war for territories" and "war for human rights". This is a reflection of heterogeneous ideology of UCK/KLA/KPC and other similar formations created by ethnic Albanians in the Balkans.

The turmoil on the Albanian side prompted corresponding reflexes of the ethnic Macedonian side in the conflict. Besides, recent statements by the arrested former minister Boskovski, given in Pula, in connection with the Hague investigation of the events in Ljubotenski Bacila confirm that the Macedonian side also shared heterogeneous ideology regarding its approach to the crisis. Namely, Mr. Boskovski even today continues with his attempts to forge history and the way he tried to forge reality in 2001. Unfortunately, even today, he is not alone in his attempts at forgery.

In "White Book: Terrorism of the so-called National Liberation Army" (published by Ministry of Internal Affairs (Police) in 2001, on page 140, dated August 9, we can find the following:

"Fierce terrorists attacks on the security forces positions in the village of Radusa took place. In the attacks, which went on through the night, terrorists used mortars based in the villages of Krivanik and Koranci, in Kosovo (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), as well as the locales of Kobilja Glava (above the village of Radusa) and Cesteva (towards the village of Dvorce). Between 1:30am and 3:00am terrorists again fired mortars at the positions of the security forces in the village of Radusa, ‘OCA' checkpoint and the ARM border post. One soldier was wounded in the clashes. The security forces adequately responded to all terrorist attacks.

In armed clashes in the region of Radusa, which continued into August 10 2001, six policemen from Kriva Palanka and Prilep were lightly wounded and taken to the State Hospital."

Such assertions of this propaganda publication of the Ministry of Internal Affairs are confirmed by the Daily Activities Diary of the Radusa Police Station and ARM Daily Operations Reports. Macedonian armed forces responded to UCK attacks on all police and military positions, assisted by mortar fire from Kosovo, which went on with higher or lower intensity between August 9 and 11, with fire from all available weapons. The fact that the police station in Radusa was hit several times (and later totally destroyed after the police pulled out of the village) and that the train station building was totally destroyed (the station is located on the outskirts of the village) indicates the force of the attacks. After the attacks the police pulled out to two new locations, the abandoned buildings of the Radusa mine (Radusa colony) on the road towards Skopje. In the attacks between August 9 and 11, out of about 200 policemen who manned the police station, eight were lightly wounded, while one member of special police forces suffered serious injuries.

Ethnic Albanian extremists also hit a position established by soldiers from the Caska border post, near the village of Radusa (the position consisted of a trench-earth fortification, without any permanent buildings). The position was the target of the attack starting at 8:15pm on August 9 and continuing until 10am the following day. The fortification was hit by mortar fire from the positions in the village of Dolno Orasje (which, unlike Radusa, is located on the other side of the Zeden Mountain, towards Tetovo). One reservist, member of the First Border Brigade of the ARM, was wounded in the attack. Extremists were fortunate to hit with their mortar fire several oil barrels, meant for AMR vehicles. One ARM T-55 tank was also destroyed in the attack.

On August 11, under attack from ethnic Albanian extremists the last ten soldiers pulled out from the improvised border post near Radusa.

However, all of this UCK activity was confined to a fairly narrow ring around the village of Radusa and the Macedonian armed forces were repulsed from their positions in or immediately outside the village. That did not significantly affect the military balance of force in the field. The approaches to the village from the direction of Skopje (a narrow and mostly straight gorge), as well as higher peaks towering above Radusa in the direction of Skopje and along the border with Kosovo had been previously taken by the police and ARM and well fortified. Some of high police and ARM officers we have contacted asserted that at no time the extremist had a chance of breaking through towards Skopje or endangering the water springs in Rasce.

According to participants in the fighting on the Macedonian side, heavy machine guns, make Frog (infamous for the incident in which former minister Ljube Boskovski wounded several civilians during a demonstration by Lions special forces unit), had crucial role in the defense and allowed policemen to successfully block all frontal attacks on their positions.

At one point during the fighting, when the extremists threatened to totally surround the policemen in the buildings of the old Radusa mine, on two occasions an ARM helicopter joined the fighting later followed by two efficient over flights by Macedonian Air Force two-seater Suhoi. That put an end to the advances by the UCK, followed by a turnaround on the battlefield, and panicky withdrawal of the UCK fighters to trenches and earth bunkers at their initial positions around the village of Radusa and an escape to Kosovo.

(It is interesting that these activities of our air force were not mentioned in the regular Daily Operations Reports of the ARM Chiefs of Staff).

On August 13, 2001, Dnevnik in a lengthy article under the headline "Fierce fighting near Skopje", among other, wrote:

"Near the village of Radusa, since Friday (August 10 - our remark) Macedonian security forces are fighting against about 1,000 terrorists of the Kosovo Protection Corps. The first attack started on Friday evening, by about 600 KPC soldiers advancing from Krivenik. The aggressor from Kosovo entered Macedonian territory, but was repulsed after several ours of fighting. Terrorists left on the battlefield several tens of dead and wounded, witnesses claim.

On Saturday around 4pm, the terrorists initiated the most serious attack on the security forces deployed in the region. They attacked from four directions. A column of two hundred terrorists initially attacked the border post located between the villages of Kuckovo and Radusa with mortar fire and fire from snipers and machine guns. Two groups attacked the police station in Radusa, from the former refugee camp and along the Vardar river valley, from the spot known as Visecki bridge. The border post and the police station in Radusa were set on fire by direct hits from terrorists mortars. The last group attacked coming from the unpaved road going from Radusa towards the border with Kosovo. Macedonian border troops repulsed all attacks on the border post, and witnesses claim that the terrorists got as close as 200 meters to their positions. In other parts of the battlefield the policemen repulsed attacks as well. Our joint forces inflicted a catastrophic defeat on the terrorists who attacked from the direction of the border post Caska. After three hours of fighting airplanes of the Macedonian Air Force were deployed against the remnants of terrorist gangs. During the night strong armored-mechanized units, supported by infantry, took up defensive positions on several peaks near Radusa.

Yesterday (August 11 - our remark) around 8 o'clock terrorists again attempted to enter Radusa. However, after two hours of fighting their scattered units returned to Kosovo.

(...)

Minister of Internal Affairs (Police) Ljube Boskovski has stated for the Macedonian Information Agency (MIA) that policemen had pulled out of the police station in Radusa because both the police station and border post had been set on fire by the KPC terrorists groups.

He has also confirmed that the road Skopje-Tetovo had been blocked near Grupicin.

According to Boskovski at this moment it is necessary to initiate the largest offensive so far, due to the danger that terrorists will widen the conflict, take control of Radusa and continue towards Skopje. Regarding the denial issued two days ago by the Ministry of Defense, stating that KPC troops did not take part in the attacks, Boskovski said he had no idea what the purpose of the denial was. Nevertheless, he was convinced that the shared goal should be the defense of the territorial integrity of Macedonia. According to him, in order to avoid misunderstandings, perhaps it was necessary to improve the communication between junior and senior officers, and achieve improved objectivity.

‘As a government minister, I am always on the spot, in the midst of events. I want to timely clarify some dilemmas, given that everyone can end up being misinformed,' Boskovski said, adding that ‘we can call these groups KPC or territorial defense of Kosovo, but it cannot be denied that about 5000 armed individuals are as we speak entering the territory of the Republic of Macedonia in various vehicles over Dvorci, near the peak number 770'.

‘At this moment it is unimportant whether Macedonian security forces were attacked by the KPC, from Kosovo or from Macedonia. It only matters that there was a fierce attack on Radusa by the terrorists,' Vlado Buckovski, Minister of Defense, stated for Dnevnik. According to him, the border hasn't been closed from the Kosovo side, but additional steps need to be taken before it can conclusively be said that terrorists are coming from Kosovo.

The security situation is not good, Buckovski said, although yesterday was a bit quieter than previous days.(...)"

Dnevnik's reporting, given that during the 2001 crisis it was obvious that the newspaper had numerous sources in the Police, is a good illustration of the remaining open issues in connection with the events near Radusa and the end of the 2001 conflict.

First, although the ARM and police casualties are known, until today it remains unclear, as during the whole 2001 conflict, whether UCK had any casualties. Commander Mesusi in a statement for Forum insisted that apart from several seriously injured soldiers, his side had no casualties. On the other hand, all eyewitnesses on the other side, of Macedonian security forces, claim that UCK did have losses, but no one is prepared to back up "dreams" of the then Macedonian authorities about "hundreds of dead". But, how many dead were there and where are they now?

"I personally saw how UCK fighters picked up bodies of their killed comrades and carried them away from the front line," a high ranking police officer said for Forum. He was a commander of the operations during the fighting near Radusa. According to our collocutors, it is possible that the dead were taken to Kosovo and buried there. The UCK does not deny that its fighters included numerous "volunteers" from Kosovo. According to Mesusi, the ratio of fighters from Macedonia and those from Kosovo was "six to one". Consequently, we can conclude that about 100-150 fighters from Kosovo fought near Radusa, no doubt all experienced guerrillas from wars in the former Yugoslavia (although one should take into account possible exaggerations regarding the number of UCK soldiers in this region). Allegedly, in cemeteries in Vitina and other towns along the border with Kosovo until this day it is possible to find unmarked graves dating to the crisis in Macedonia (we were unable to confirm this claim).

Less credible sources point out the possibility that some of the dead - especially the alleged "Mujahedin" - were dumped in the deep and abandoned mine shafts near Radusa.

Secondly, military events near Radusa confirm the infamous lack of coordination between Macedonian military and police during the 2001 crisis. The Macedonian public already knows enough about that issue, although true professional analyses still haven't been done. However, lack of consensus on the Macedonian side whether fighters from Kosovo fought with UCK near Radusa is not only important for the chronicling of the fighting in the region, but also reflects on the political circumstances connected with this delicate period of the crisis year 2001 in Macedonia.

Namely, there is a theory according to which UCK attacks on the positions of the Macedonian security forces in August 2001 followed as a reaction to political events around the signing of the Ohrid Agreement. Continuous failure of the UCK to control the whole territory around Radusa implied a very important strategic failure as well: the UCK failed to "connect" territories under its control in the Tetovo and Lipkovo regions, which would create a single "liberated territory" in the north-west of Macedonia. Thus, some believe, the August offensive near Radusa (as well as other military activities in that period) were a desperate last attempt of some radical circles in KLA/UCK, with close links with Kosovo, to escalate the conflict with the assistance of the Kosovo Protection Corps and achieve an important military success, which would strengthen their negotiation position in the process of political denouement of the crisis.

The letter to the UN secretary general Koffi Anan, sent by the then Macedonian Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski, on August 13, 2001, among other states:

"(...) Yesterday's and today's armed aggression from Kosovo by more than 600 members of the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC) against the territorial integrity of Macedonia, yesterday's siege of the village of Radusa and its bombardment by weapons stationed on the territory of Kosovo, for me personally, as a Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia, are nothing else by an official declaration of war against my country by an international protectorate, Kosovo, i.e. the Kosovo Protection Corps, which - unfortunately - is part of your civilian administration of the United Nations in Kosovo.(...)"

In August Macedonian press published claims, allegedly coming from Macedonian intelligence services, that the attacks around Radusa, by the KPC, were allegedly lead by none other than experienced general Agim Cheku (for that occasion stationed in the Kosovo border village of Krivenik), the commander of this formation in Kosovo. Some dailies went so far as to claim that KPC identification cards were found on some of "killed and captured" members of UCK near Radusa.

(Given all of that, however, it is unclear what sort of "victory", embellished by Greater Albanian slogans, is celebrated by UCK/KLA members every year, in August, in Radusa, led by Fazli Veliu? Unless that is only the latest expression of the custom of all Balkan nationalists who pathetically celebrate their own defeats, akin to the way in which Serb nationalists glorify the defeat in the Kosovo battle.)

On the other hand, the Albanian view of the battle near Radusa is totally different. The Macedonian side (under influence of Lj. Frckovski, according to Mesusi) wanted to conclude the crisis with a great victory, in hope of gaining political advantage in the post-crisis consolidation of the country. "However, they failed," claims Mesusi.

Regardless of what the two sides claim in connection with the events near Radusa, one big dilemma remains wide open: how are we to explain the attitude of NATO and KFOR during these events and in what context should we address their total failure to secure the Kosovo side of the border? "Your excellence," says Georgievski in the abovementioned letter to Annan, "this situation is unprecedented in international relations: a sovereign and democratic country is under attack by a protectorate of United Nations".

Intense military clashes near Radusa, going on for three days in the August of 2001, are one of rare direct clashes between Macedonian security forces and the UCK. The start, flow and conclusion of the battle near Radusa symbolizes potential, mode of fighting, and military-political constellation on both sides of the conflict.

Ethnic Albanian extremists, on the one hand, exploiting the support of the local ethnic Albanian population and assistance from Kosovo, aware of their limited military potential, did not take significant risks and engage in big actions in the field. Their activities, in the manner of modern guerrilla forces, were fast and focused, with the goal of minimizing own losses and maximizing losses and damage, especially psychological, on the opposing side. During all of the 2001 crisis, such tactics prevented them from taking or controlling a single larger settlement in the region where they were active, but enabled them to permanently destabilize the country, which provided them with an optimal political position for imposition of their own role in peace negotiations.

As far as the Macedonian side is concerned, the battle near Radusa is a typical example of military-political confusion displayed by the country during the 2001 crisis. Fortunately, in the end the outcome was not as bad as the events in the field presaged. The best illustration of the situation is perhaps a statement of a well known experienced general of the Macedonian Army and a military theoretician, who replying to the question of the then president of Macedonia Boris Trajkovski regarding what was the best way to deal with outlaws near Tanusevci stated: "President, do not ask a general what to do in the situation that can be sorted out by a captain!"

It seems that the complexity of the military operation near Radusa did not demand involvement a rank higher than a captain. The problem was that important posts in Macedonian politics at the time were manned by captains, instead of generals.


Translated on August 16, 2005
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