Investigations into the murders continue, as interethnic tensions heat up.
By Misko Taleski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 16/04/12
Police investigate the scene of five shooting deaths at Zhelezarsko Lake near Skopje. [Reuters]
The murder of five Macedonians at the Zhelezarsko Lake near Skopje on Thursday (April 12th) shocked the region by its brutality and threatened the peace in Macedonia, while potentially threatening regional security as well.
Four of the victims were men ages 18 to 20, who had repeatedly come to the lake to fish. The fifth was a 45-year-old man who was killed while attempting to flee the scene, and is believed to be an unsuspecting witness to the crime.
"The ministry of internal affairs is intensively searching for the murderers and the motive for the murder. From the available information, neither their identity nor ethnicity can be ascertained now. The murderers cannot escape justice however, and they will be punished most severely," Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska said.
Investigators have determined that the four young men were shot at close range by three types of firearms.
Police formed an operative group to co-ordinate the investigation. Authorities are interviewing at least 100 people, and found a vehicle that is believed to have been driven by the killers.
"We call on all citizens and media to [remain calm] and not raise inter-ethnic tensions," Jankulovska said in an appeal to the public.
The deaths, however, sparked tensions between Macedonians and Albanians, amid suspicions that Albanian paramilitaries had murdered the men in light of repeated social media calls to avenge two Albanians killed two months ago in Gostivar after they attacked an off-duty police officer.
Compounding the situation this time is the fact that these murders coincided with Orthodox Easter celebrations.
Several hundred outraged Macedonians blocked the nearby Radishani neighbourhood, building barricades, lighting candles and appealing to the government to ensure justice prevails. They demolished a bus as well as a vehicle of the opposition-leaning 24 Vesti TV.
Police quickly took over the neighbourhood and detained nine protesters.
"We are increasingly assaulted and murdered, but the police and courts often do not do their jobs in the name of interethnic co-existence and international and domestic politics, while the media presents a skewed or neutral view," Branko Ristevski of Skopje, who was near Radishani, told SETimes.
Analysts say that the murders can be placed in a regional context, given recent developments that threaten the peace.
"This murder is an introduction into the activities in the next several months when the conditions for changing the Balkan borders will ripen, i.e., materialise the idea for Greater Albania," Ivan Babanovski, former professor at Security Faculty in Skopje, told SETimes.
"I expected such incidents a bit later, but somebody seems to be in a hurry," Babanovski added.
Mersil Biljalji, political analyst and vice rector of the FON University in Skopje, disagreed, saying the idea of Greater Albania is neither behind this nor other incidents. He blames the criminalisation of society.
"The murders do not have to have interethnic character. Be as it may, they are a result of the bad politics being conducted," Biljali told SETimes. He however agreed Macedonia "may enter a dangerous phase socially."
However, Jove Kekenovski, Bitola University security professor, told SETimes that the mistrust and animosity between the Macedonian people and Albanian minority is high. "It is obvious the Albanians want to live in an ethnically pure state and this kind of incident results from such plans."
The organisations that formed with the dissolution of the Kosovo Liberation Army warned Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, EULEX and KFOR that they will mobilise again to defend the Albanians in Kosovo's north.
The paramilitary Albanian National Army (ANA) warned the US, EU, NATO and the UN that they will intervene in Kosovo, as well as western Macedonia and the south of Serbia to protect Albanians from extremism.
"We are forced to intervene before it is too late," ANA's political leader Gafur Adili said.