Macedonia Veterans Seek Referendum to Oust Defence Minister

A party representing war veterans has launched a campaign for a public vote to dismiss former ethnic Albanian fighter Talat Xhaferi from his new job as Macedonia’s defence chief.The small opposition party Dignity announced on Tuesday that it will start gathering the 150,000 signatures needed to support the referendum initiative against Xhaferi.

The party said the referendum question would ask people if they would accept former fighters with the National Liberation Army – an ethnic Albanian force which battled government security troops during the 2001 conflict in Macedonia – as ministers of defence, justice or police in the country.

The head of Dignity, Stojance Angelov, told an extraordinary meeting of the party that Xhaferi’s appointment was a “deeply humiliating” move.

“Wasn’t there somebody else? Did they have to install an NLA commander as defense minister?” Angelov asked.

The appointment last week was part of a reshuffle of ethnic Albanian ministers in the Macedonian camp. It was agreed between the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party and its ethnic Albanian coalition partner, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI.

The DUI dismissed the campaign launched by Dignity, which is part of the opposition bloc led by the Social Democrats.

“The campaign against Talat Xhaferi has deeply political motives,” said the DUI’s spokesperson, Bujar Osmani.

The 2001 conflict between the now-disbanded NLA and the security forces ended the same year with the signing of a peace accord that gave more rights to Albanians who make up a quarter of the population.

The ex-fighters were granted an amnesty and shortly after formed the DUI, which has since become the most popular ethnic Albanian party in Macedonia.

In 2010, in a highly controversial move, parliament voted for an additional amnesty in four war crimes cases that the Hague Tribunal had returned to Macedonia to deal with, concerning atrocities alleged to have been committed by ethnic Albanian rebels during the 2001 conflict.The cases involved accusations of the kidnapping, torturing and killing of civilians.

The move was seen as a concession by the VMRO DPMNE party to its junior partner, the DUI, in order to convince it to remain in the government after elections in June last year.

Angelov raised the issue again at the Dignity meeting on Tuesday.

“They accuse us of obstructing reconciliation. Do they work towards reconciliation? Did they not know that such an amnesty would deeply upset and humiliate the people of this country?” he demanded.

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