Police clashed with an unidentified armed group Saturday in the town of Kumanovo in northern Macedonia, authorities said.
Macedonian media reported that at least four police officers were injured in the gunbattle in the ethnically mixed town located about 25 kilometers northeast of the capital, Skopje. There were unconfirmed reports that police and civilians were killed in the exchange of fire.
Nearly 40 percent of Kumanovo’s 100,000 residents are ethnic Albanians.
Speaking to reporters in Skopje, Macedonian Interior Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski said an armed “terrorist group” had entered the country from a neighboring state — which he did not identify — with the aim of attacking “state institutions.”
Both neighboring Albania and Kosovo, which is inhabited primarily by ethnic Albanians, issued statements expressing concern over the reports of violent incidents in Macedonia and condemning any acts violence aimed at destabilizing the country. The foreign ministers of both countries called for self-restraint and interethnic harmony in Macedonia.
U.S. urges calm
The U.S. Embassy in Skopje said in a statement that it regretted “the loss of life related to the actions in and around Kumanovo,” and it offered sympathies to the families of the people killed and to those injured. The embassy said it was following the situation closely and was in contact with the authorities and political leaders, and it urged Macedonian citizens “to remain calm and allow the facts to be established.”
The EU delegation in Macedonia on Saturday issued a statement calling for calm and asking Macedonians to wait “for facts to be established by the relevant authorities.”
Ethnic Albanians, who make up about 25 percent of Macedonia’s 2 million people, took up arms in 2001. The conflict was resolved after six months with a Western-brokered peace deal that granted more rights to the ethnic Albanian minority.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s mission to Skopje issued a statement Saturday saying it was “closely monitoring and assessing the security situation” in Kumanovo, and it urged “all those concerned to show restraint.”
“The safety of the local population is of crucial importance at this time,” said Ambassador Marianne Berecz, acting head of the OSCE mission. “The immediate and urgent priority is to avoid any escalation which could lead to further violence.”
Condemnation from OSCE official
The OSCE chairperson-in-office, Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić, spoke by telephone with Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki about the situation in Kumanovo. According to the OSCE, Dačić condemned the violence, saying: “A better, more developed society, which is what we are all aiming for, is built through long-term, day-by-day work on reforms, and any sort of violence endangers its very foundations.”
Dačić said the OSCE’s special representative on the Western Balkans, Ambassador Gerard Stoudmann, and the head of the OSCE’s Chairmanship Task Force, Ambassador Dejan Šahović, would visit Skopje next week.
The EU “must intensify engagement” in Macedonia, tweeted Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and top diplomat who acted as a mediator in the Balkans conflict of the 1990s. He called the violence in Kumanovo “worrying” and the situation Macedonia “tense.”
VOA’s Albanian service reporter in Skopje, Isak Ramadani, contributed to this report.
(Photo via Independent Balkan News Agency)