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Report from Tetovo

The Road To War

By James T. Phillips
09 August 2001

Tetovo, Macedonia. The highway from Skopje to Tetovo is littered with the skeletons of vehicles; hulking masses of burned metal and rubber that were once busses, trucks and autos. The debris is all that remains from a gun battle yesterday morning between the Macedonian military and Albanian rebels.
The road is now open, but most of the traffic is headed east, away from the danger in Tetovo. Albanian rebels have surrounded Tetovo, and all of the roads leading to the city are hazardous to travel. The rebels, who have claimed they only want increased rights within the Macedonian society, are creating 'facts on the ground' which are at odds with their stated political goals.

The once bustling city of Tetovo is now a ghost town. When the guns begin firing, only a few people are willing to scamper from building to building. The crack of sniper bullets echoing through the emptiness, and the whistling sound of artillery shells passing overhead before they impact on Albanian rebel positions are a reminder that, although peace negotiations are taking place in Ohrid, war is what is happening in Tetovo.
South of Tetovo, on the edge of the village of Recica, Albanian rebels have again manned barricades, firing on Macedonian military checkpoints from a distance of 100 meters. The fighting by soldiers and rebels is closer than any peace agreement being negotiated by diplomats and politicians. During the five week-long ceasefire Macedonians have tried to avoid confronting the rebels, adhering as best they can to the demands of NATO and the European Union. However, the killing yesterday (8 August) of 10 government soldiers on the road to Tetovo has incensed the citizens of Macedonia, and their political and military leaders are now responding with weapons instead of words.

" The Macedonians, they have no mercy," said 16-year-old Argjira Fejzulai as she huddled with her family during an intense battle between Macedonian soldiers and Albanian rebels. "The children hide down in the cellar when the shooting starts. They are scared." Argjira's family lives in an Albanian neighborhood near the frontline separating Tetovo and Recica.

Two weeks ago, when the rebels began creeping ever closer to the city, the minority population of Macedonian civilians living in Tetovo believed that they were shown 'no mercy'; they had to hide or leave their homes when the rebels attacked. Thousands of Macedonians from Tetovo and the villages nearby are now refugees in their own country, unable or unwilling to return to their homes. They did not ask for mercy, only an end to the fighting.

" We are a peaceful people," said the son of a Macedonian restaurant owner in Tetovo. "We do not want war, but the terrorists want our land." He spoke softly, but wanted his government to wield a big stick. "The terrorists will run away when our army attacks."

The peace negotiators in Ohrid have been trying to cobble together a document that will end the fighting in Macedonia. Only a few days ago, just before the rebel attack on the Tetovo to Skopje highway, the negotiators from NATO and the European Union saw the 'light at the end of the tunnel'. An announcement was made that an agreement would be signed next Monday in Skopje.

The facts on the ground in Tetovo, Skopje, Prilep and other Macedonian cities, towns and villages are the result of failed diplomacy. The tunnel light has dimmed, and the signing of a peace agreement between diplomats and politicians will not stop the fighting in Macedonia if the rebels do not stop their aggressive actions. Albanian rebels have taken lives and land from the Macedonians, and a civil war is inevitable if the rebels do not 'run away'.

Many international media reports have denigrated the ability of the Macedonian army, including one today by a reporter from the BBC. He said that the Macedonians suffer from a "lack of bravery". Unfortunately, the journalists have mistaken a disciplined military force acting under orders to avoid confrontation (Macedonia) for a military force acting brave while avoiding confrontation (NATO).

The wreckage on the highway to Tetovo will seem inconsequential if the civil war in Macedonia explodes. The Macedonians are a peaceful people, and they do not want war. But, if the politicians and diplomats are not able or not willing to end the conflict by ending the occupation of Macedonian land by Albanian rebels, then another war will commence and there will be carnage throughout the country.© The News Insider 2001James T. Phillips, who sent this report from Tetovo, Macedonia, is a freelance journalist who has previously reported on the conflicts in Iraq, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Currently, Phillips edits the web publication

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