A Canadian journalist has evidence that NATO is arming and equipping the ethnic Albanian guerillas who have waged a five-month long insurgency against the Macedonian government in Skopje.
Scott Taylor, editor of Espirit de Corps magazine, says that on a visit to guerilla bunkers overlooking the besieged Macedonian city of Tetovo he was welcomed with shouts of, “God bless America and Canada too for all they have provided to us.” Canada is a member of the US-led NATO coalition.
Taylor says guerrilla commanders showed off their arsenal, which included side arms, sniper rifles and grenade launchers, all marked “Made in the USA.” Says Taylor, one commander remarked that, “thanks to Uncle Sam, the Macedonians are no match for us.”
Taylor isn’t the first to charge that Washington is aiding the guerillas. The Macedonian government alleged that US helicopters were delivering supplies to guerillas in the mountains above Tetovo. US officials don’t deny that airdrops were made, but say helicopters were transporting vital humanitarian aid. But Taylor says the local guerilla commander told him that the helicopters were delivering heavy mortars and ammunition. The guerillas have bombarded Tetovo with artillery.
Taylor says ethnic Albanian villagers cheer at the sight of US helicopters, while guerillas at brigade headquarters wear Nike-style T-shirts bearing the phrase, “NATO Air – Just do it!” Meanwhile, one Macedonian police officer lamented to Taylor that “if NATO hadn’t been arming and equipping the (KLA) in Kosovo there would be no need for them to disarm these guerillas now.”
This isn’t the first time complaints about the US and NATO arming ethnic Albanian guerillas have been made. In March, a European K-For battalion commander told the London Observer that, “the CIA has been allowed to run riot in Kosovo with a private army designed to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic…Most of last year, there was a growing frustration with US support for the radical Albanians.” And in January the BBC reported that Western forces were training guerillas, then opening a new front in southern Serbia and Macedonia.
In June, when Macedonian forces were closing in on guerillas in the town of Aracinovo, NATO intervened, transporting ethnic Albanian rebels out of the besieged town in air-conditioned busses. According to the German newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt, 17 US advisors, belonging to an American mercenary firm involved in other Balkan conflicts, were among the guerillas. And the newspaper pointed out that 70 percent of the equipment carried away by the guerillas was US made.
Days earlier, a American diplomat was slightly wounded by Macedonian gunfire as he emerged from the woods (around Aracinovo) with two other Americans,” according to the International Herald Tribune. The diplomats were emerging from rebel-held territory.
Two months ago, the London Sunday Times reported that at least 800 ethnic Albanian guerillas fighting in Macedonia are members of the Kosovo Protection Corps, a paramilitary police unit created by the UN from the KLA. The Times says, “Hundreds of KPC reservists were called up by their Albanian commander Agim Ceku, in March. They subsequently disappeared to former KLA training camps in Albania and are now re-emerging in Macedonia.”
Ceku, one of the top leaders of the KLA, along with Hacim Thaci, was artillery chief of the Croatian army when it launched a war in the Krajina region of Croatia, which led to 250,000 Serbs being driven from their homes. Under the KPC, 250,000 Serbs, and another 100,000 Roma, Gorani, Turks and Jews have been driven from Kosovo. Now, the KLA offshoot in Macedonia, the NLA, seems intent on ethnically cleansing the largely Albanian Tetovo region. Over 120,000 Macedonians have fled or have been driven from their Tetovo area homes by guerillas. Ilir Hoxha, a 25-year old ethnic Albanian said, “Let them leave. They should never return. Tetovo is Albanian and it will remain Albanian.”
For years, many Albanians have dreamed of resurrecting the greater Albania established under the Italian fascists, and then under the Nazis. It incorporated parts of Macedonia and Greece, southern Serbia, and Kosovo into Albania proper. Some reports say an ethnic Albanian Liberation Army of Chameria will open a new front in Greece soon.
Skopje has been hampered in its response to the guerillas. NATO and the EU have warned Macedonia not to crack down on the guerillas, and Ukraine, which was providing equipment to the under-equipped Macedonian army, was warned to stop shipments of materiel.
Meanwhile, press reports in the West describe NATO and EU diplomatic efforts as aimed at preventing a civil war, though the intention appears to be to prevent a strong Macedonian response.
The guerillas say they’re fighting to win language rights, but critics point out that an armed attack is highly disproportional to the NLA’s stated aims. Moreover, the fact that the guerillas have been recruited from Kosovo, pass freely over a Kosovo-Macedonia border presumably patrolled by NATO K-For forces, and have driven non-Albanians from their homes in an apparent effort to ethnically cleanse the Tetovo region, points to the pursuit of other goals, fully backed by NATO.
Taylor, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces, says NATO’s support of the guerillas is so blatant “it is little wonder that the Macedonian majority have staged violent anti-NATO riots.”
Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.