Gunmen take police hostage in Macedonia, call for Albanian state

Gunmen take police hostage in Macedonia, call for Albanian state
Members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (in the middle is Sadik Cuflaj) stand in formation to turn over their weapons to U.S. Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the village of Zegra, Kosovo, on June 30, 1999.

About 40 armed men wearing uniforms of a disbanded ethnic Albanian guerrilla army from Kosovo took several police officers hostage in northern Macedonia overnight, Macedonian police said on Tuesday.

The men left the police post near Macedonia's border with Kosovo after several hours. Macedonian Interior Ministry official Ivo Kotevski told a news conference that the gunmen said they were part of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Speaking in Albanian, they told their captives "We will have an Albanian state". "This morning, Macedonian state institutions were the target of a terrorist act," Kotevski said.

The incident was reminiscent of an insurgency in Macedonia in 2001, when security forces fought rebels demanding greater rights for the former Yugoslav republic's large ethnic Albanian minority.

That conflict followed a 1998-99 war involving the KLA in neighbouring majority-Albanian Kosovo, a former province of Serbia. A peace accord in 2001 ended the fighting in Macedonia. The guerrillas laid down their arms and entered politics in exchange for greater rights and representation for an Albanian minority estimated to account for about 30 per cent of Macedonia's 2 million people.

Macedonia was promised integration with NATO and the European Union but progress has been blocked by a dispute with Greece over Macedonia's name, which it shares with a northern Greek province.

Ethnic tensions remain, fuelled by frustration at the lack of progress towards the European mainstream and the jobs and prosperity many in Macedonia hope will follow.

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