Time: 7:23 p.m. CEST
Photo, video and writing by Aleksandra Dukovska
The Court in Skopje should weigh between the prosecution’s charges against 29 detained persons after the police action in Kumanovo’s neighborhood “Tode Mendol” and statements from the defense about developments in Kumanovo on May 9-10 last year. The court process against 29 defendants started in Skopje on Tuesday. During the third day of court hearings of the prosecution and defendants, police secure the building of the Supreme Court in Skopje, where the court process takes place. Police in riot uniforms and guns secure not only the building of the Supreme Court, but also area close to the court buildings in Skopje.
Correspondents for the media who have accreditation to cover the court case inside the courtroom could hear, not only opening remarks of the public prosecutor Naum Panovski, but also the opinion of the defendants in the case. Based on the publically available press release of the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime and Corruption, the public prosecutor on November 4, 2015 submitted charges against 29 people to the Primary Court Skopje 1 in Skopje. The statement says that based on the evidence from the investigation into the events of Kumanovo on May 9 and 10 this year, “the defendants are charged for committing crimes, ‘Terrorist organization’ under the article 394 and ‘Terrorism’ under article 394-b of the Criminal Code.
According to cable 24VestiTV’s website, the prosecutor Naum Panovski explained the indictment, pointing out that the evidence for a paramilitary group was divided in three levels, command structure, logistics and members of the organization. The Prosecution says, the leadership of the group was consisted of citizens of Kosovo and Macedonia.
The Prosecution connects the events in Kumanovo on April 21, 2015 and says the group attacked a police station in Goshince village, took away the weapons, and crossed the border toward Kosovo. Days later, as the prosecution explains the earlier events in Kumanovo before the police intervention, special police unit had a court order to search a house in Kumanovo’s neighborhood “Tode Mendol.” As 24Vesti reports from the courtroom, the police did not enter the house after facing the armed resistance.
The events that happened after that led to arrest of the defendants and possible death of some of the members of the armed group, which opposed to the police search. On Thursday, February 11, 2015, the defendants gave their explanations about what happened in Kumanovo, but all denied the charges on which they are detained. Twenty-nine detained are Albanians, some of Kosovo, while some are from Macedonia. In the courtroom inside the Supreme Court in an early phase of the process, Plusinfo.mk informs that defendant Nasuf Beqiri addressed the court with the words, “even small children know that we are not terrorists and that we did not come in Kumanovo to fight against.”
As Plusinfo.mk says, Beqiri stressed that they were used for political purposes and requested international monitoring for the case. According to Plusinfo.mk reporter from the courtroom, Beg Rizaj and Mirsad Ndrecaj (now dead) told them that “they would be just a figures and if the police came to shoot in the air.”
However, the exchange of fires in Kumanovo on May 9 and 10 were not only in the air, neither for police, nor for the armed group. Several members of the group reportedly located in the houses in the side streets of “Tode Mendol” neighborhood died, but there is conflicting information how that happened.
Plusinfo.mk says from the courtroom, defendant Rufki Dogani of Kosovo, when addressed to the Judicial Council, said that Beg Rizaj, Mirsad Ndrecaj, Valjon Kabashi and Sami Kastrioti surrendered to the police alive, but they were reportedly killed in a police station. He claims, he personally saw when they surrendered.
The court process is in early stage, but already created discrepancies about the developments of the shootings in Kumanovo last May. On May 9, residents of Kumanovo close to the “Tode Mendol” neighborhood heard and reacted on social media about the shootings in the area, exchange of fires, police movement, and smoke coming from the houses.
On Saturday, May 9, riot police and other police officers exchange the fires with some of the people inside the houses in the neighborhood. Before the afternoon on May 9, some of the residents in the side streets close to the area of shooting were still at their house and walked outside to see what is happening.
Mayor of Kumanovo Zoran Damajanovski hold news conference in the Municipality. Some of the journalists collected empty ammunition cartridges that fall from the arriving armed police vehicles. Part of the local and national media crews, could spot the smoke from the houses and to hear occasional exchange of fires from a distance hill above the area of the police operation. Later during the day police evacuated population, including children. The exchange of fires continued overnight.
On Sunday, May 10 shortly before the 3:00 p.m. police started to withdraw the armed vehicles from the side streets and several automobiles marked with signs of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe entered the neighborhood. They were second to enter inside the neighborhood before the cars, probably from the Ministry of Interior and other responsible institutions entered first.
The shootings resulted with eight police officers killed and over 30 wounded and destroyed homes of local residents, which the government under former Prime minister Nikola Gruevski decides to repair with financial aid.
On May 11, 2015 as the statement from the prosecution explain, a prosecutor from the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime and Corruption finished questioning the thirty members of the, as it states, “terrorist group” after which, the judge of the preliminary procedure proposed the detention. According to the same statement, the prosecutors inspect the scene and gathered evidence of significant benefit in the investigative procedure. The statement says the prosecutor issued an autopsy of all deceased persons.
Discrepancies in what led to the event and briefed exchange of fires in a neighborhood in Kumanovo already created tense political atmosphere with claims for a political background of the case and creating ethnic issues.
However, after May 9-10 events, situation in Kumanovo is calm. Kumanovo, as a town, was not affected with the short conflict in 2001, aside the movements of the armed groups in Kumanovo’s area and villages that are close to the town and mostly populated with Albanians.
The police establishment from the previous government justified the action to prevent possible actions of the group against state institutions and buildings. Recently after the events in Kumanovo and pressed by the claims of the disclosed materials of the opposition, two leading persons from the Ministry of Interior resigned.
The residents in Kumanovo name the neighborhood “Tode Mendol” as “Диво Насеље.”
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