Macedonian Opposition Parties Cry Foul Over Government's Handling of Armed Standoff

29/09/2005

An armed gang that occupied a Skopje-area village for months eventually stood down as a result of what many suspect was a negotiated deal. Although the government succeeded in resolving the crisis, opposition parties and even President Branko Crvenkovski have criticised what they say is a bad precedent.

By Zoran Nikolovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje – 09/29/05

photo

A Kondovo villager watches politicians arrive after Agim Krasniqi and his armed group vacated the area. [AFP]

Last week, the government of Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski survived a no-confidence vote. In addition to criticising the Social Democrat-led administration's economic policies and blaming it for delayed NATO membership, opposition parties focused their ire on the government's handling of the recent armed standoff in Kondovo, a village in the Skopje municipality that was off-limits to police for months.

The crisis was resolved in August when Agim Krasniqi, the apparent leader of about 80 armed men who occupied the village, agreed to stand down and later appeared before a magistrate. However, the magistrate then withdrew all national and international arrest warrants against him -- a move that not only outraged the opposition, but drew criticism from President Branko Crvenkovski, the former head of the party Buckovski now leads.

"Taking into account the seriousness and number of the criminal acts Krasniqi and members of his group were accused of," Crvenkovski said, "I have to say that both the action of the prosecution office and the decision of the magistrate have rightfully aroused not only attention of the public but doubts, revolt, worry, and so that affair must be resolved."

Krasniqi and his group occupied Kondovo twice -- first between July and December 2004, and later between February and August this year. Through the media, Krasniqi threatened to shell Skopje, and his men kidnapped and beat four police officers. Starting in September 2004, arrest warrants were issued against him for illegal possession of weapons, kidnapping and theft.

After Krasniqi and his men vacated the area, police found a cache of weapons that reportedly included mortar launchers and shells, a rocket launcher, heavy machine guns, automatic weapons, grenade launchers and grenades, bombs, landmines, and ammunition.

While the government won praise for peacefully resolving the crisis, it has also been accused of setting a bad precedent by negotiating with armed criminals. Opposition parties claim that Krasniqi's withdrawal was obtained through a political deal between the Social Democrats and their partner in the ruling coalition, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration.

They also charge that police escorted Krasniqi to the court in a covert operation after promising him amnesty and that the magistrate withdrew the warrants under political pressure.

"Vlado Buckovski has sent a gloomy message to the citizens," Aleksandar Bicikliski, a spokesman for the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, said. "Occupation of villages and settlement can happen in the future with the government sitting on the negotiating table."

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Crvenkovski has voiced similar objections. "The law will either rule in Macedonia or not. Laws will be either valid for all or we shall promote lawlessness," the Macedonian Information Agency quoted him as saying.

The government has rebuffed the opposition's charges, denying that any amnesty deal was cut or that the government had a role in the withdrawal of the warrants. Krasniqi still faces charges and will answer for them in court, authorities insist.

At the same time, the government defends its decision not to mount a large-scale, potentially deadly police operation to force Krasniqi out of the village.

Political means in resolving security issues will not be avoided in the future, Buckovski said.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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