Angry Macedonians block Nato supplies

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The Independent Online

"Nato is at war against Macedonia," said Simon Trajkovski, sheltering from the scorching sun in the parched hills on the country's border with Kosovo.

A few metres away from the old man, four large mounds of soil topped by Macedonian flags, and a few metres of barbed wire, are playing havoc with the Western alliance's entire operation in Kosovo. Mr Trajkovski and about 100 ethnic Macedonians have blockaded Nato's only effective supply route to Kosovo.

"Minefield" is painted jokingly across the road ahead of the blockade – and a political minefield is what British troops have stepped into.

Ethnic Macedonians, like Mr Trajkovski, are incensed at the presence of Nato troops, some 2,000 of them British soldiers, who have come to Macedonia to collect the Albanian rebels' weapons. A burnt-out car lies across the road with "Nato" and a swastika painted across it. A heart and arrow on the road says "Nato 4 ANA", referring to a hardline rebel splinter group, the Albanian National Army.

Nato says it is in Macedonia to end the Albanian rebellion and avert civil war. But most of those manning the blockade at Blace firmly believe the West is biased in favour of the Albanians, and that Nato soldiers are here to help the rebels. "The West created the Albanian terrorists in Kosovo and Macedonia," said one man angrily.

"The bombing in Serbia was to allow Nato soldiers to make a base in Kosovo," said Mr Trajkovski, nodding towards the border. "Now they will come here."

From the start, the Macedonia crisis has been linked to UN-administered Kosovo. Rebel supply lines run across the border and protesters want reparations from the UN.

Blace is a place heavy with recent history. Thousands of Albanians fled here from Slobodan Milosevic's campaign of terror as the Nato bombs hit Kosovo in 1999. Macedonia was deeply reluctant to let them in, and they were stranded, starving, in no man's land for days.

The Macedonians blocking the road today have their own reasons to be bitter. They too are refugees, forced out of their homes by occupying Albanian rebels.

Mr Trajkovski was ordered out of his house in Tearce, near the Albanian-dominated city of Tetovo. It was at gunpoint, he said. Another man, Jordan Nikolovski, said rebels beat his 68-year-old father, Tripun, leaving him with 10 broken ribs and bruised kidneys. Mr Nikolovski has got a doctor's report to prove it. One woman, calling herself only Nikolina, wept as she spoke of her husband, aged 74, taken prisoner by the rebels.

The man behind the blockade, Todor Petrov, said the barrier would stay until all "kidnapped" Macedonians were released. He threatens more blockades to obstruct Nato's work in Macedonia. The Red Cross is negotiating for the prisoners' release.

Meanwhile Nato is struggling to supply goods to thousands of K-For soldiers. Everything from hamburgers to tanks goes up this road, and Chinook helicopters thunder overhead, huge crates swinging beneath them on steel cables. It's the only way Nato can get its supplies in.

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