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An ethnic Macedonian waves the country's flag at a road block on the Macedonia-Kosovo border, at Blace on August 18, 2001 where around 50 people stopped NATO troops moving north and south in protest against Albanian rebels in the area who have been fighting government forces during the last six months. A new NATO force of 3,500 may be deployed to Macedonia to collect weapons from the ethnic Albanian fighters and to bolster a fragile peace agreement. The sign reads "This is Macedonia". REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
A British soldier points his rifle after arriving at Skopje airport, August 18, 2001. NATO will not send troops to Macedonia to collect weapons from ethnic Albanian guerrillas unless a shaky truce with government forces stabilizes, the commander of the small British advance task force warned. (Petr Josek/Reuters)
British soldiers disembark from a military aircraft after landing at Skopje airport August 18, 2001. NATO will not send troops to Macedonia to collect weapons from ethnic Albanian guerrillas unless a shaky truce with government forces stabilizes, the commander of the small British advance task force warned. (Petr Josek/Reuters)
Members of National Guard attend the celebration of the Day of Macedonian Army in Skopje, August 18, 2001. A small NATO task force arriving in Macedonia prepared on Saturday to start sizing up the risks facing a planned larger operation to collect weapons from ethnic Albanian guerrillas under a peace pact. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
Bulgarian prisoners stand on roof of the Sofia Central Prison, August 18, 2001. Some 23 prisoners climbed on to the roof of Bulgaria's biggest jail to protest prison sanitary conditions and inefficiency in the judicial system. (Dimitar Dilkoff/Reuters)
A Bulgarian prisoner flashes a victory sign from his cell in the Sofia Central Prison August 18, 2001. Some 23 prisoners climbed on to the roof of Bulgaria's biggest jail to protest prison sanitary conditions and inefficiency within the judicial system. (Dimitar Dilkoff/Reuters)
Macedonian refugees block route to "NATO aggressors"
BLACE, Macedonia, Aug 18 (AFP) -
Macedonian anger at perceived pro-Albanian bias in the West's response to fighting in their country boiled over Saturday on the Kosovo border, where protesters blocked a major NATO supply route.
More than 60 Macedonians, many of them refugees driven from their homes by ethnic Albanian rebels, rolled barbed wire across the main road from Skopje to the Blace border crossing and stopped NATO and international traffic.
"We have blocked the communication route of the NATO aggressors who are smuggling drugs and weapons to the Albanian terrorists," said Gjeorgji Petrovski, a 39-year-old mechanic from Skopje.
Small numbers of Macedonian police looked on as the protesters filtered the traffic, turning back two armour-plated British military staff cars from Kosovo's NATO peacekeeping force and vehicles carrying OSCE monitors.
The mood was angry, but not violent, although one Macedonian who attempted to pass the barricades driving a van marked with diplomatic plates had his identity papers snatched and thrown into a ditch.
While most of the protesters were young or middle-aged men, a busload of women and children from displaced families joined them in the early afternoon.
The protesters arrived at around midnight Friday and the road was still blocked at 4:00 pm Saturday, with many protesters vowing to remain in place until the NATO troops arriving at the weekend left the country.
The protest was organised by the World Macedonian Congress, a nationalist organisation representing mainly Macedonian emigres, and the coordination committee for civilians driven from their homes by fighting.
Congress president Todor Petrov, who arrived escorted by three uniformed men carrying assault rifles, said: "The protest is to make sure the Macedonian people's voice is heard".
He said he had presented NATO with a list of demands and that the road would remain blocked until the alliance forced ethnic Albanian rebels to free the Macedonians he said they had kidnapped and give up captured land.
The road is the main supply route for NATO's peacekeeping force in Kosovo, and previous occasions when the Macedonian government has closed it have caused serious disruption for the province's international administration.
NATO's spokesman in Macedonia, US Major Barry Johnson, said: "We use the crossing very heavily, but it has been closed before and it will no doubt be closed again. We use other routes when we have to."
But the blocking of the route is more important for the signal it sends the NATO commanders who arrived in Macedonia on Friday to take the temperature of the conflict before advising on the deployment of a larger force.
Many Macedonians oppose concessions made to ethnic Albanians in a peace deal signed on Monday by party leaders, and Western diplomats suspect hardline politicians of manipulating protests to maintain pressure on the West.
Every one of the protesters on the road Saturday, sweltering in the blistering heat around their makeshift barricades, were convinced that the West, and the United States in particular, is supporting the rebels.
The location of their protest also had a symbolic importance.
Gesturing at a wide, dusty stretch of parched farmland beyond the road, a middle-aged protester, shows where in 1999 tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanian refugees were housed in the Stenkovec refugee camp.
"When all those people came here during the Kosovo crisis we helped them. Now look what they are doing to us," he said.
The protesters were also furious with their own government for signing off on the peace deal, many accusing their leaders of being bought off by Albanian and US money.
"All the moves made by the government are against the Macedonian people and the state," Petrovski said.
British fly in as jets bomb Albanians.
BY MICHAEL EVANS, DEFENCE EDITOR AND ANTHONY LOYD IN SKOPJE.
TWO government strike aircraft launched a bombing raid on an Albanian village north of Skopje yesterday as the first British troops flew into the capital of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to prepare for the Nato mission to collect thousands of weapons surrendered by rebels.
The village of Radusa was bombarded by the Macedonian aircraft on a day that began with the death of a civilian during early-morning clashes between ethnic Albanian rebels and government forces around villages in the north west of the country.
British military sources said that the involvement of the Su25 Frogfoot jets over Radusa was an example of a typical Balkans ceasefire and would not alter Natos determination to press ahead with preparing for the mission.
Yesterday Natos ruling council decided to defer until early next week a decision on whether to send in the rest of the 3,500 troops for the British-led Operation Essential Harvest. General Joseph Ralston, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, planned to travel to Skopje on Monday to take part in the assessment process.
About 50 British headquarters and logistics staff landed in Skopje last night. By the close of this weekend the British, their initial deployment secured by Czech paratroopers, aim to have set up their headquarters in Skopje and to have sent liaison teams to contested areas to speak to government and local rebel commanders.
Although there is some confusion about when the rebels might start to hand over their weapons, the arms-collection operation and the 30-day timetable cannot start until the Nato force is fully deployed. The Macedonian Parliament must ratify the deal before all the weapons are handed over, according to the agreement. However, one third of the weapons are to be handed over before then.
The arrival of the first Nato troops in Macedonia yesterday represented a remarkable success story for a rebel force that a few weeks ago was being derided in the West as a group of terrorists and thugs. One defence source said that the overriding aims of the National Liberation Army had been to get foreign countries involved in its fight with the Skopje Government and to earn the respect of the world. Its what we call the black limousine syndrome, the source said, in which a small, previously unknown group like the NLA is suddenly the focus of world attention and can expect to be flown to Washington, met at the airport by a fleet of black limousines and whisked straight to the White House.
The transformation has been achieved in less than six months. When the NLA started firing from the hills above Tetovo, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the Nato Secretary-General, denounced them as terrorists and indicated that Nato would help to stifle the violence. When Macedonians responded with artillery fire aimed at Albanian hill villages, Nato said that the Skopje Government was retaliating with reasonable restraint. The NLAs strategy, the defence source said, had followed classic phases. The initial gunfire had been aimed to attract a disproportionate response from the Government. Once that had been achieved, the aim was to provoke the sympathy of foreign powers and to force Western envoys to arrange a peace deal that met their demands.
The source said: For the Albanians this is all part of a national struggle for recognition wherever they are. In their history they have fought the Ottomans, the partisans, the Germans and the Italians. In Kosovo they succeeded in enlisting Nato as their air force to bomb the Serbs and now in Macedonia Nato has intervened once again.
Macedonian nationalists block major NATO supply route.
BLACE, Macedonia, Aug 18 (AFP) -
Macedonian nationalists opposed to a Western-backed peace deal for their country on Saturday blocked the main road leading out of Skopje towards Kosovo, a major NATO supply route, AFP reporter at the scene said.
Around 60 Macedonians gathered in blistering heat on the road leading from the capital Skopje to the main border crossing of Blace, and blocked the road with sand and two roles of barbed wire.
Some 20 private vehicles were also parked across the road.
"We have blocked the communication route of the NATO aggressors who are smuggling drugs and weapons to the Albanian terrorists," said Gjeorgji Petrovski, 39-year-old mechanic and member of the World Macedonian Congress, an international non-governmental group representing mainly Macedonian emigres.
He said the demonstrations were called by the Congress and the organising committee comprising Macedonians driven from their homes by ethnic Albanian guerillas.
Petrovski and other protestors condemned the recent peace deal struck by Macedonian party leaders, an attempt to bring an end to more than six months of fighting between ethnic Albanian guerillas and government forces.
"All the moves made by the government are against the Macedonian people and the state," he said.
A police checkpoint on the road leading up to the demonstration turned back most traffic, but there was no security presence at the protest itself.
All traffic leading to and from the border crossing was stopped in both directions.
The government's crisis coordination centre said earlier that the World Macedonian Congress had blocked the road after midnight on Friday.
The demonstrators vowed to would continue the protest until they saw some change in the government's and NATO's position.
The protest came as NATO troops began to arrive in Macedonia to examine a shaky ceasefire and take the country's political temperature before committing to a mission to disarm the rebels.
The rebels agreed to lay down their arms after Macedonian and ethnic Albanian party leaders agreed to a peace plan which foresees constitutional changes to improve the rights of the country's large Albanian minority.
Macedonians opposed to the deal argue that it rewards the Albanians for their six-month armed rebellion and threatens to split the country along ethnic lines.