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Tension Remains High in Macedonia Ahead of Elections - 2002-09-12

An ethnic-Albanian policeman was killed early Thursday in the Tetovo Valley in western Macedonia. The incident is being viewed as attempt by yet-unknown forces to disrupt Sunday's parliamentary elections.

The killing was quickly condemned by NATO, which maintains a lightly armed security force in Macedonia. A NATO spokesman says the attack on the police post in the Albanian populated area of western Macedonia is an attempt to wreck the election. The killing was also condemned by the ethnic-Albanian party which led last year's armed rebellion against the Macedonian government.

Agron Buxhaku is the vice president of the Democratic Union of Integration, the party of the now-disbanded Albanian insurgents. He spoke at a news conference in Skopje. "Today there was another incident that occurred in the village of Bogovinje near Tetovo," he said. "And the Democratic Union for Integration strongly condemns this criminal act."

Mr. Buxhaku blamed the attack on "dark forces" that oppose ethnic reconciliation. He also complained that the Macedonian-led police in the Tetovo region are not doing their job effectively.

The European Union, which brokered last year's negotiated end to the ethnic conflict in Macedonia, also condemned Thursday's violence. Irena Guzelova, the spokeswoman for the EU special representative in Macedonia, stresses the importance of Sunday's election. "These elections are probably about the greatest hurdle the country has faced since the peace agreement was adopted by the parliament last November," she said. "Essentially they will be a test to see how far and how effective the implementation of the peace agreement has been."

Macedonia has a population of two million people, about a third of which is ethnic Albanian.

Despite Thursday's killing, the election campaign has been less violent than many analysts feared. However, tension remains high in some areas. Nearly 800 international observers are arriving in Macedonia to monitor Sunday's vote.