Bulgaria calls for thorough investigation into fatal clash between police and armed group in Macedonia’s Kumanovo

The gun battle in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo that left five police dead, more than 30 injured and a reported five members of the armed group they were fighting also dead has prompted a call from Bulgaria for security to be restored and a ” prompt, transparent and thorough investigation”.

Macedonia’s government has declared May 10 and 11 official days of mourning for the members of the security forces who died in the May 9 clash with what the government and media in Skopje described as a “terrorist group”.

Bulgaria was concerned about the events in Kumanovo, the Foreign Ministry in Sofia said, expressing condolences to the families and relatives of the dead and wounded.

“We hope that security in the affected areas of the city will be restored as quickly as possible and that further escalation of tensions and increasing the number of victims will be avoided,” Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said.

Bulgaria called on “all political actors to behave responsibly in the name of stability of the Republic of Macedonia and the region”.

“We believe that the status of the Republic of Macedonia as a candidate for membership of Nato and the EU requires a prompt, transparent and thorough investigation to establish what happened, and the taking of all appropriate measures in the spirit of the rule of law.”

European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said on May 9 that he was deeply concerned at the unfolding situation in the Kumanovo region and possible injuries and loss of life.

“I urge the authorities and all political and community leaders to co-operate, to restore calm and fully investigate the events in an objective and transparent manner within the law. I urge all actors for utmost restraint. Any further escalation must be avoided, not the least in the interest of the overall stability in the country.”

The United States embassy in Skopje said on May 9 said that it deeply regretted the loss of life and expressed sympathies to the families of the people killed and to those injured.

“We are following the situation and are in close contact with the authorities and political leaders. We urge citizens to remain calm and allow the facts to be established,” the US embassy said.

The OSCE Mission to Skopje said on May 9 that it was closely monitoring and assessing the security situation in Kumanovo and urged all those concerned to show restraint.

“We believe that the safety of the local population is of crucial importance,” said ambassador Marianne Berecz, acting head of the OSCE Mission to Skopje.

“We are in constant contact with all relevant authorities and urge all citizens and political parties to remain calm. The immediate and urgent priority is to avoid any escalation which could lead to further violence,” she said.

Serbian foreign minister Ivica Dacic, who chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held a phone conversation with his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Poposki, Macedonian website Sky said, according to a Bulgarian website Focus.

In a conversation with Gruevski, Dacic condemned the May 9 incident in Kumanovo and expressed concern about the victims.

“What we all try, is to build a better and developed society through long-term and permanent reforms, and any violence threatens the foundations of society,” Dacic said.

Albania’s foreign minister Ditmir Bushati said, “we express our deepest regret for the loss of human lives and in this context, we urge the authorities in Macedonia for transparency, co-operation and thorough investigation in determining the facts.

“Our message is clear: we condemn any act of violence by considering it unacceptable for a democratic society.

“At the same time, it is unacceptable that any person or group of armed people be identified ethnically, as it is unacceptable that the loss of civilians lives and lives of police officers is set against the background of ethnic prejudice,” Bushati said.

Kosovo’s foreign ministry said on May 9 that the Republic of Kosovo condemns the violation of order and security by any individual or group with destabilising aims in Macedonia.

Kosovo also urges all parties to refrain from violence and find a solution through political dialogue within the country’s institutions and the Ohrid Agreement, which guarantees the integrity of Macedonia and the fulfillment of the rights of communities, the foreign ministry in Priština said.

According to media in Skopje, four members of the armed group were killed, one committed suicide to avoid being captured and the rest surrendered to police.

Macedonian interior minister Gordana Jankulovska said in a May 9 statement that the ministry had launched an operation that morning to detect and dismantle a “large armed terror group” that had been aiming to organise attacks on state institutions.

There had been fierce resistance from the group for almost 16 years, and police were attacked with hand grenade launchers, grenades, machine guns and sniper fire, she said.

The ministry had invested “huge efforts” to avoid civilian casualties, Jankulovska said.

On May 9, the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) Zoran Zaev urged Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski and his coalition partner Ali Ahmeti to explain to the public what was happening in Kumanovo, Macedonian website Nova Makedoija reported, according to Focus.

“I call on Nikola Gruevski immediately to come to the public and to clarify who and for what purpose wants to destabilise Macedonia,” Zaev said, asking whether and why criminal groups from neighbouring countries entered Macedonian and who organised them and for what purpose.

In 2001, rebels demanding greater rights for the ethnic Albanian minority launched an uprising against the government.

Further conflict was averted by a peace agreement, which guaranteed ethnic Albanians greater recognition, but tensions have continued to simmer, the BBC said.

Meanwhile, recent days in Macedonia have seen incidents of violence during continuing protests against the government over a wiretapping scandal and allegations of abuse of office that has led to calls for Gruevski’s resignation. The national political crisis and scale of the protests is the largest in the former Yugoslav republic for several years.

Since February, opposition leader Zaev has been releasing leaked recordings which he says were provided by members of the intelligence services alarmed by the government’s apparently authoritarian leanings, the BBC said on May 6.

The government and the opposition have accused each other of planning to destabilise the country to take or preserve power, and some analysts fear leaders on both sides are ready to provoke ethnic clashes as leverage., according to a VOA report.



The Sofia Globe staff

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