Five police officers were killed and 30 injured in clashes with unidentified gunmen believed to have crossed into the Albanian-majority area of a northern Macedonian town from Kosovo. Gunfire and explosions lasted for over 15 hours.
So far, Macedonian officials have refused to divulge any details about the armed group, only saying that they were well equipped with sniper rifles and bombs.
“Five police officers were killed in a shootout with terrorists” and another thirty were injured in the northern town of Kumanovo, Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska told reporters on Saturday.
It is still unknown if there were any civilian casualties or how many of the gunmen were killed during the operation. “There are victims among the terrorists but for the time being we cannot give the exact number,” Jankuloska added.
Local Albanian media reported that five armed men were killed during the clashes.
According to GazetaExpress.com, the armed conflict resulted in five ethnic Albanians being killed.
Residents of “Lagja e Trimave” neighborhood stated that three older people, one young girl and her father were killed, all of them ethnic Albanians.
Around 30 of the militants surrendered, while another 15 gunmen were reportedly able to escape, according to some sources.
On Saturday, Macedonian media reported, quoting journalists on the scene, that group of 70 terrorists is eliminated as a threat. Macedonian media report that 27 of them surrendered carrying white sheets, and the rest of the group is killed.
Police revealed that the armed group illegally entered Macedonia from a neighboring state, without providing any more details.
Albanian media quoted a statement of the so-called “National Liberation Army” (NLA), which claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying that the army and police carried out “terror against civilians” and announced even fiercer attacks on the security forces of Macedonia.
“We will continue to attack the police and the army without mercy. We will fight to the end to unite territories with Albanian population. Today we are stronger, and tomorrow we will be even stronger. We are everywhere.”
The National Liberation Army, also known as the Macedonian UÇK, is a militant organization closely associated with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
Serbia urgently reinforced its border with Kosovo to preserve security of its citizens amid the terrorist attack in Macedonia, according to the Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic.
He added that the Serbian government is ready to offer shelter to the refugees from Macedonia if the situation in the country escalates.
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov was forced to cut his trip to Moscow short to deal with the incident.
It comes as the government is under domestic pressure, being accused of illegal wire-tapping. The country’s capital, Skopje, witnessed thousands of protesters clashing with police on Wednesday.
Macedonia went through an ethnic uprising when rebels demanding more rights for ethnic Albanians took up arms against the government in 2001. The conflict was quelled by a peace agreement, which guaranteed greater recognition of Albanians. Tensions in the area have remained, however.
The most recent incident happened less than three weeks ago when around 40 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo took control of the Macedonian police station on the northern border for a short period of time. They called for the creation of an Albanian state in Macedonia.
Kosovo effectively split from Serbia after NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, an operation launched without UN consent. NATO intervened in a years-long ethnic conflict between Albanian separatists and the Serbs, which at the end of the 90s saw Yugoslavian armed forces fighting the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army. Both sides carried out crimes based on ethnicity. Today the non-Albanian population in Kosovo continues to be persecuted despite the UN peacekeeping force there. Major incidents compared to ethnic cleansing still occur, including significant unrest in March 2004.
Kosovo unilaterally proclaimed its independence from Serbia in 2008, but remains only a partially recognized state. Macedonia has recognized Kosovo in a move believed to be connected with its own ethnic tensions with Albanian residents and insurgents.