European Intelligence: The US Betrayed us in Macedonia
by Christopher Deliso in Skopje
June 22, 2002
SKOPJE - The US government was accused today of subsidizing and training Albanian paramilitaries in Macedonia, in a secret European report leaked to Dutch National Radio.
The furor over a clandestine connection- frequently alleged, but never proven- further worsens transatlantic relations that have already been strained by an ongoing trade war. The Dutch report comes at a particularly sensitive time for President Bush, who is currently seeking to solidify international support for a wider war on terror. The US Embassy in Skopje was not aware of the charges by late Friday evening, and could not yet make an official statement.
Because specific details were not permitted to be leaked, the report was filtered through the Klingerdaar Institute (a respected Dutch military analysis firm). Klingerdaar in turn gave the salient information to Dutch Radio, which also interviewed several individuals who had been involved in Macedonia. The investigation centered on several controversial episodes, including the battle of Arachinovo (26 June 2001), and the “Essential Harvest” weapons collection mission in September.
Even before this new report, American involvement had long been suspected at the three-day battle in Aracinovo, a heavily Albanian town northeast of Skopje. As the battle progressed, the Macedonians claimed to be on the verge of eliminating NLA forces. Yet suddenly they were given the order to pull back, and NATO buses rolled in to escort the heavily-armed Albanians out. At the time, NATO claimed that this intervention was vital, because the Albanians were coming dangerously close to victory, and mediation was needed.
The story from many witnesses, however, was very different. German newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt reported that 17 American military advisors from MPRI (the Virginia-based private military company) were also evacuated with the Albanians. This, Macedonians declared, was the real reason for NATO’s intercession. But while MPRI had an official contract as Macedonian Army advisors, suggestions of a similar presence with the Albanians were vigorously denied.
The Dutch report confirms the link, however, and quotes the German reporter who filed the original story. Apparently one of the MPRI men had been captured by the Macedonians. He panicked, and, waving his US passport, shouted “diplomatic immunity!” Through heavy US intercession, the man was freed and evacuated together with his comrades and the NLA fighters. European sources identified this particular individual as having been active in training Bosnian fighters in the 1990’s.
According to the Dutch report, there are still many unanswered questions about Operation “Essential Harvest.” At the time, NATO decided that collecting approximately 3,500 weapons would sufficiently disarm the Albanians. Yet after the collections began, Macedonians charged the NLA with giving up only their oldest and least useable guns. Museum curators in Skopje sarcastically asked that the Albanians’ WWII-era pistols be donated to their collection.
The Europeans claim that NATO was well aware that antiquated guns were being surrendered- and further, that not even four percent of these weapons could be fired.
More damning still is testimony from Macedonian intelligence services, who claim that NATO merely exchanged the Albanians’ old weapons for new ones. This story comes independently of the Dutch report, from one individual who secretly watched “Essential Harvest” through binoculars from a nearby mountainside.
During the war, the Dutch report also states, constant telephone connection was maintained between Albanian rebels and high-level American officials. Some of these conversations were taped by European intelligence. At some point the Americans became aware that they were being tapped, and discontinued direct phone contact. At this point, the Europeans claim, America purchased computers with phone technology for the NLA. Thus communications were restored.
This stunning report comes at a time when Holland is taking over NATO’s Macedonia command from the Germans. Some analysts are viewing the denunciation of the US involvement as a direct invitation to the Hague for American leaders- just as the US has been reiterating its opposition to a world court.
Last year’s war in Macedonia was started by the self-declared National Liberation Army (NLA), an Albanian militant group originally denounced by NATO spokesman George Robertson as “murderous thugs.” As the war proceeded, however, the “terrorists” were legitimized into “freedom fighters.” Heavy Western pressure forced a restrained response from the Macedonian army. As a result, the war was dragged out, and the Macedonian government was forced to negotiate with the NLA and its chief, Ali Ahmeti.
Despite winning new rights across the board, such as an amnesty for NLA members, use of Albanian language and devolved local government, Albanian kidnappings, shootings and bombings have continued after the cease-fire. The heavy NATO and OSCE presence has been unable or unwilling to solve many of these crimes. Although he remains on George Bush’s terrorist blacklist, Ali Ahmeti has started his own political party, and is now becoming acknowledged as a political player in Macedonia.