AIM: start

SUN, 30 DEC 2001 00:57:44 GMT

What Do the Casualties of War Amount to?

The Macedonian public has not yet been told the exact number of casualties claimed by the war waged in the country for months. Although a fragile peace is in effect at the moment, the toll the war exacts in human lives is still being paid

AIM Skopje, December 25, 2001

It seems as if the only reliable figures concerning the losses suffered in the war fought in Macedonia for months are those pertaining to the conflicted armed forces. According to them, Macedonian security forces have lost 63 of their men. The former political and military leadership of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) claims their losses up to the present amount to 64 fighters having lost their lives since the incident in Tanusevac last February. The only striking difference between the two practically identical figures seem to be the circumstances in which these men died: Macedonian soldiers and policemen were killed in clashes with NLA, while the casualties of the opposing side mostly resulted from faulty weaponry or poor training. As for civilian casualties, ethnic Albanians seem to have paid a heavier toll, but the figures available are still not final. The Macedonians have yet to determine the fate of their missing compatriots, while the figures released by the ethnic Albanian side speak merely of 16 victims in the Lipkovsko region, some twenty odd civilian casualties in the region of Tetovo and nine civilians killed during the police raid on the village of Ljuboten.

In an incident which took place last Thursday near the police check-point in the vicinity of Rataje village, a man was killed, another seriously wounded. According to the report of Utrinski Dnevnik and its police sources, "the incident took place when two men armed with rifles approached the check-point. On failing to comply with the warnings of the policemen on duty to stop, they were fired upon. One was shot dead, the seriously wounded one transported to the nearest hospital by the police. " The villagers of Depciste tell a different story. According to them, father and son, Sabit and Nesat Halili, were on their way back from a hard day’s work on their land when they were gunned down by the police with no reason whatsoever. As far as the ethnic Albanian community is concerned, the whole incident resembles much too closely the one when a 73-year old man was shot dead this summer in the village of Rasce on the outskirts of Skopje, allegedly while trying to blow up a reservoir providing the city with drinking water.

These latest casualties are bound to push up the number of ethnic Albanian civilian losses in the recent conflict in Macedonia. If the results of an investigation carried out by the weekly Lobi are to be trusted, ethnic Albanian civilians in Macedonia are the ones to have paid the highest price for the war so far. On the other hand, the fate of the 12 ethnic Macedonian citizens believed to have been kidnapped, executed and buried in mass graves remains uncertain. What the broader public is unaware of is that among the said twelve persons missing are not only Macedonians, but a number of other nationalities as well - amongst others, five ethnic Albanian civilians.

The situation is far clearer when the armed forces directly involved in the conflict are concerned. Macedonian security forces operate with a figure of 63 policemen killed in action. Their very first casualty is the policeman killed during the shelling of the police station in the village of Tearce near Tetovo on January 20 last year. From then on, Macedonian armed forces members and policemen lost their lives in regular cycles: starting with the three soldiers killed near Tanusevac on March 4, the eight policemen shot dead in cross fire during an ambush they ran into (by chance or otherwise, depending on the source of information), the deaths of two policemen in just two days near the village of Lojane and the perish of 18 Macedonian army soldiers near Karpalak and Ljobten ( believed to be a retaliatory action in response to the killings of five NLA members shot dead in Skopje this summer) - up to the recent killings of three Macedonian special police force members near the village of Trebos while securing the location of a suspected mass civilian grave site, as ordered by Interior Minister Boskovski.

For a long time, no reliable figures concerning the casualties on the part of NLA were available. Macedonian sources spoke of huge losses, particularly following "major victories" such as the one gained on the Kale hill overlooking Tetovo at the beginning of March. During the police operation in Aracinovo this summer, the national TV as well as a number of private TV stations claimed that up to 700 NLA fighters were killed in battle at the time! No solid evidence to uphold such allegations was ever to established and the public itself found it pretty hard to swallow explanations such as the one that this was due to the fact the NLA transports the bodies of its dead soldiers to be buried in Kosovo.

On the other hand, the impression is that NLA has restrained from making use of its losses for propagandistic and mobilization purposes. The former political and military leadership of NLA operates with a figure of 64 of its soldiers lost in the conflict of which a good part gave their lives for lack of training or due to accidents in handling faulty arms.

The exact number of wounded and disabled NLA fighters is still unknown. Yet, interestingly enough, the former leadership of the self-disbanded NLA is known to be honoring its obligations and providing for the families of its fallen and disabled veterans.

At this point yet another thing deserves mention: at the very outbreak of the conflict, the NLA declared that it would not carry out operations against civilians, that it would honor the Geneva Convention to the full and that it recognizes the authority of the international Hague Tribunal. As opposed to this, mass civilian deaths caused by police violence in the village of Ljuboten - probably the most obvious and best documented instance of human rights violation in the recent conflict in Macedonia - are likely to make a Hague " patient " out of Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, seeing that the ICTY has opened an investigation concerning the said incident.

The losses on the part of the two armed forces involved in the conflict seem to be practically identical. Although there is reason to believe that the ethnic Albanian civil population paid a much heavier toll, this is partially understandable since the war was fought in parts of the country primarily inhabited by ethnic Albanians. Judging by the number of casualties, some might even say that the recent war in Macedonia has not been nearly as barbaric and deadly as the one waged in former Yugoslav republics of Croatia and B&H. Still, is there anyone to argue that a single life sacrificed is an acceptable price to be paid for a settlement that might have been reached otherwise?

Regrettably, Macedonia is still paying a heavy toll for the war being waged here recently. For one, the issue of the general amnesty to be granted to former NLA members has not yet been resolved in a satisfactory fashion, promising to make more difficult the proclaimed return of the Macedonian security forces to regions formerly held by NLA armed forces.

The price in innocent lives paid up to now will amount to no good if it does not bring about the realization of the possible roots of the plague presently devastating Macedonia .Having in mind the events of July last year when the fragile peace agreement was signed and the latter general accord dating back to August last year, it seems as if the politicians involved are hopelessly lacking in insight as to the exact state of affairs. Including the toll to be paid in innocent lives lost for their miscalculations.