Demining starts in Macedonia after clashes leave 22 dead

2015-05-11 14:16
People stand in the rubble of damaged houses after fighting between Macedonian police and an armed group in the town of Kumanovo. (Armend Nimani, AFP)

People stand in the rubble of damaged houses after fighting between Macedonian police and an armed group in the town of Kumanovo. (Armend Nimani, AFP)

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Belgrade - Macedonian authorities were clearing explosion debris and demining the town of Kumanovo on Monday after 22 people were killed in a government operation against an armed group branded by police as terrorists infiltrating the country.

The eruption of violence over the weekend raised tensions in the landlocked Balkan country and throughout the region, which was ravaged by ethnic violence throughout the 1990s.

Local media reported sporadic explosions attributed to demining in the ethnic Albanian town, where a two-day raid on the weekend left 14 alleged gunmen and eight police officers dead and 37 injured.

Houses were damaged in the fighting, and authorities fear that further unexploded ordnance and booby-traps are hidden in the area.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski told reporters on Sunday that the terrorist group infiltrated Macedonia intending to kill thousands and destabilise the country.

While officials said that the group was comprised of ethnic Albanians from neighbouring Kosovo, Gruevski insisted that their compatriots in Kumanovo had not supported the gunmen.

"This is not a Macedonian-Albanian conflict, because that would be harmful to both Macedonians and Albanians in the region," he said.

Fair elections

The restive Albanian minority, making up between 25 and 30% of the 2.1 million people, rebelled for more rights in 2001.

The country was on the verge of civil war when Nato and the EU brokered a peace-and-reform agreement that improved the position of the Albanians.

Following the weekend's violence, police patrols lined Belgrade's Skopje highway, a main European route that runs next to Kumanovo before crossing the Macedonia-Serbia border some five kilometres to the south.

Officers at the border wore flak vests and had automatic rifles on display. The situation was similar at the airport in the capital, Skopje, some 30km to the north.

Governed by Gruevski and his conservative VMRO party since 2006, Macedonia has been in political turmoil since elections more than a year ago, with the opposition boycotting the parliament.

The Social Democratic opposition accused Gruevski and VMRO of rigging the elections and illegally eavesdropping on thousands of politicians, judges, journalists and businessmen.

The opposition is staging protests, demanding Gruevski's resignation and a technical government to prepare fair elections.

Read more on:    macedonia  |  security

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