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Old 01-01-2018, 11:55 PM   #1
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Default Macedonia: Probing for Truth about Ethnic Violence Trials

Macedonia: Probing for Truth about Ethnic Violence Trials

The ousting of Nikola Gruevski’s regime in 2017 brought new hope for those who felt they were unjustly tried for terrorism in several murky, high-profile court cases that troubled inter-ethnic relations in Macedonia.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The election in May of the new government led by the Social Democrats marked the final ousting of Nikola Gruevski’s authoritarian regime, which had been in power for 11 years.*

It also marked the end of Macedonia’s deep political crisis which originated from the refusal of Gruevski’s right-wing VMRO DPMNE party to step down.

The change in central government offered a long-awaited glimpse of hope for people who were tried for terrorism in several ethnically-sensitive court cases that have long poisoned the fragile inter-ethnic relations between the Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority in the country.*

These cases, which many believe were politically influenced by the former regime, are now either being reopened or await reopening, in hope that they get resolved once and for all in more transparent processes.

Hope also comes from the promise of the new government to curb past political influences on courts, and to call in international experts to help shed more light on these painful and highly divisive cases from the not-so-distant past in Macedonia, where ethnic relations have been highly sensitive since a brief conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and the security forces in 2001.

Kumanovo shootout case awaits international probe

The year brought disappointment but then a cause for cautious optimism for the 37 ethnic Albanian defendants accused of involvement in a two-day shootout with the Macedonian police in the town of Kumanovo in 2015.

After a year-and-a-half-long trial, Skopje Criminal Court in November*gave life sentences to seven of them, while most of the others got long jail sentences. This sparked*outrage and protests in neighbouring Kosovo, which is home to 16 of the defendants.

The men were found guilty of terrorism, either for participating in a two-day shootout with the security forces in Kumanovo that left 18 people dead including eight police, or for giving assistance to the gunmen.

The men’s defence claimed that they were victims of a political set-up by the VMRO DPMNE regime and that their intention had not been to cause violence, but to send a message about ethnic Albanian rights in Macedonia.

The bloody shootout brought back bitter memories of the armed conflict in 2001, when fighting raged in the neighbouring municipality of Lipkovo and bombs also exploded in the middle of Kumanovo.

There are widely-held suspicions that Gruevski’s government and its security services might have played a role in staging the bloody incident that could have sparked a repetition of 2001.

It’s alleged that the authorities were trying to divert attention from incriminating revelations contained in wiretap recordings that were published by the Social Democrats, who were in opposition at the time.

Gruevski denied the claims, but new Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has said on several occasions this year that he would support a review of the case by international experts to shed more light on what happened.

“We agreed to have an international investigation aiming to give the right answers to citizens,” Zaev said on December 12.

While the details of this international probe are still not known, the defendants now have a chance to contest their verdicts before the Macedonian Court of Appeals.

Skopje mass murder case awaits retrial

Another highly sensitive case, also involving ethnic Albanian defendants, saw an unexpected twist this year.

In October, Macedonia’s then provisional chief prosecutor Liljana Spasovska*advised the Supreme Court to scrap life sentences*given to six alleged ethnic Albanian Muslim extremists for the gruesome killings of five ethnic Macedonians near Skopje at Orthodox Easter in 2012.

Spasovska said that the credibility of some of the forensic materials and of the evidence that was brought before the court is now being questioned. She also said that the defendants’ right to a fair trial was jeopardised during the proceedings and asked for a retrial.

The Supreme Court accepted this suggestion, then the defendants were released from detention after spending several years behind bars. They are banned from leaving the capital and are awaiting the retrial, which should start in 2018.

In June 2014, the Skopje Criminal Court found Alil Demiri, Afrim Ismailovic, Agim Ismailovic, Fejzi Aziri, Haki Aziri and Sami Ljuta,*guilty of killing the five ethnic Macedonians in 2012. They were given the longest possible sentence for terrorism offences, life in prison.

The corpses of Filip Slavkovski, Aleksandar Nakjevski, Cvetanco Acevski and Kire Trickovski, all aged between 18 and 20, were discovered on April 12, 2012. Their bodies had been lined up and appeared to have been executed.

The body of 45-year-old Borce Stevkovski was found a short distance away from the others.

News of the murder raised ethnic tensions, after groups of ethnic Macedonians staged protests, some of which turned violent, blaming the killings on members of the country’s large Albanian minority community.

However, many ethnic Albanians and others believe that the defendants might have been scapegoats, and that the previous government led by the right-wing VMRO DPMNE*might have been involved*in an attempt to show that state institutions could clear up the case efficiently.

Some believe that unpublished wiretapped conversations between former senior officials could shed new light on this case. When in opposition, the Social Democrats handed the wiretaps to the Special Prosecution, which was set up in 2015 to investigate any criminal allegations arising from the recordings.
Retrial begins in NATO mine death case

The case in which 12 ethnic Albanians from the village of Sopot were accused of planting a mine near their village that killed two Polish NATO soldiers and one civilian in 2003 has also been tainted by widespread suspicions that political influence was brought to bear on the proceedings.

The defence claims that the defendants ended up in jail due to a false statement that was coerced from one of the alleged witnesses.

In July, it welcomed the news that*the case had been handed over to the Special Prosecution. In the autumn, the case went back before the court.

The defence hopes that the Special Prosecution, which was set up in 2015 with international help amidst Macedonia’s political crisis when it became evident that the regular prosecution was highly influenced by politicians, will be up to the task of finally revealing the truth.

The mine explosion in Sopot happened in 2003 when Macedonia was still recovering from the 2001 armed conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents and the security forces.

After a prolonged trial, the 12 defendants were originally sentenced in March 2010 to a total of 150 years in jail, but after Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian political parties complained, a parliamentary commission decided that there were some omissions during the trial.

The parliamentary commission’s decision rested on a claim by one of the defendants, Ramadan Bajrami, that he confessed after being tortured by police.

This resulted in the court ordering a new trial, which was originally supposed to start in 2011.

By 2016, one of the original 12 defendants had died.

At the new trial that was launched this year, Bajrami repeated his claims that he confessed after being severely tortured by six police officers from the town of Kumanovo.

“I did not know what I was writing, and then they [the police officers] told me to memorise the statement well so that I do not get confused in court,” Bajrami told media after the last hearing on December 20.

The defence had hoped all along that the Special Prosecution would take over the Sopot case because it was mentioned by top officials in the wiretapped conversations.

In one of the conversations, what were alleged to be the voices of the former Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska and former Secret Police chief, Saso Mijalkov, could be heard talking about the case.

In the conversation, Jankuloska allegedly suggests to Mijalkov that then Prime Minister Gruevski should be consulted about how to proceed with this sensitive case, and both seem to acknowledge that the conviction of the villagers rested on very thin evidence.

It is also possible that more of the wiretapped conversations which are now in the hands of*the Special Prosecution*may reveal yet more details about the Sopot case because in 2015, the Social Democrats only released a small portion of the recordings.
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Old 01-02-2018, 12:01 AM   #2
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All the Albanians are innocent and all the Macedonians are guilty. Always no matter what.
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