Bulgaria keeps wary eye on Macedonian border

Bulgarian military and anti-terrorism forces undergoing previously scheduled training could be deployed to assist in securing the Macedonian border in case the situation in the neighbouring country worsens, it has emerged from remarks in Parliament by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov.

At the same time, Bulgaria’s Defence Minister has said that there is no direct threat to Bulgaria from the situation in Macedonia, while adding that military personnel were ready to assist Border Police if required.

Speaking in the National Assembly during a regular question time on May 13, Borissov said that the government was following events in Macedonia with concern.

He said that no Bulgarian citizens had died in the recent events there. Bulgaria’s government held a special sitting of the cabinet national security council on May 12 in the wake of the prolonged gun battle this past weekend in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo, in which eight police and 14 members of an armed group died.

The Kumanovo incidents followed a political crisis of several months in Macedonia, leading up to public protests demanding the resignation of the government. Some of these protests have seen violent confrontations between police and protesters.

Borissov told Parliament that army units and the special anti-terrorism unit were undergoing training at the moment on detaining terrorist groups, and could be used to respond at the border if the situation in Macedonia worsens.

His remarks, which were interpreted by some Bulgarian-language media as meaning that the military had been deployed at the border, led to the Defence Ministry saying in response to media inquiries that it was a matter of the military being sent to assist Border Police in the event of increased migration. This did not mean the deployment of armed units and military combat equipment, the ministry said.

Borissov told MPs that Sunday May 17 would be a key date in Macedonia because of a planned public protest rally.

He said that Bulgaria should be ready should a humanitarian crisis arise, given that there are 90 000 Bulgarian passport-holders in Macedonia.

Defence Minister Nenchev said on May 13 that if need be, the military was ready to co-operate with Border Police.

There was no direct threat to Bulgaria resulting from the latest events in Macedonia, Nenchev said, adding that he was receiving information from military intelligence.

“At this point we do not have any cause for concern but, if necessary, we are prepared to within hours render any assistance,” he said.

In Parliament, there were declarations on the Macedonia situation from four minority parties, socialist breakaway ABC, the nationalist Patriotic Front, the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.

ABC called on the government in Skopje to take effective measures to combat terrorism and to suppress any attempt to incite ethnic conflict. The party called on the EU to implement efficient tools to solve the problems in Macedonia, primarily by confirming the enlargement policy of the Union and outlining concrete and realistic prospects for the European integration of the Western Balkans.

The Patriotic Front and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms used the occasion to make sideswipes at each other, while BSP MP Yanaki Stoilov said that not for the first time, events in Macedonia were drawing attention in Bulgaria.

“The overall process in Macedonia in recent months and weeks and what happened in Kumanovo should be viewed in a broader context. We must not agree to a moratorium on the expansion of the EU,” Stoilov said.

“We are entering an increasingly unstable period that threatens to affect the Balkans.” Macedonia was not the only element in this instability, because there was a combination of these processes with what was happening in the Middle East with Islamic extremist movements, and the hostilities in Ukraine, he said.



The Sofia Globe staff

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