BETA: Profile of Macedonia's NLA Leader Ali Ahmeti
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A Career: Ali Ahmeti
POLITICIAN OR TERRORIST
The political leader of the organization that calls itself the
National Liberation Army of Albanians, Ali Ahmeti, is the key ethnic
Albanian figure in resolving the crisis in Macedonia, where a war
between ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian security forces has been
raging for months.
The organization led by Ahmeti was set up following the model used to
form the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which fought against Serbian
and Yugoslav forces in Kosovo and the Liberation Army of Presevo,
Bujanovac, and Medvedja that was active in southern Serbia. These
formations had the task of increasing tensions in the region,
mobilizing the local population, and launching guerrilla operations
against the army and police. Armed groups in southern Serbia, but also
in Kosovo and Macedonia, are linked to drug dealers and the slave
As a rule, guerrilla operations were always followed by strong
resistance to the security forces and the beginning of negotiations.
The armed guerrillas had open or tacit support from local Albanian
leaders from the very outset. In the final phase, the so-called
political leaders of the armed groups would enter the scene, wanting
to impose themselves as a key factor and sideline other local Albanian
The National Liberation Army has ignited a true war in northwestern
Macedonia. Macedonian forces failed in their attempts to suppress the
guerrillas, who have successfully organized channels for supplying and
transporting weapons from Kosovo. The guerrillas correctly foresaw
that the international forces, which guard the borders, would not
engage them in open armed conflict and thus put the lives of their
soldiers at risk. All this led to the National Liberation Army's
success in the field.
Although Ahmeti's attempt to impose himself as a side in the ongoing
negotiations failed, the platform advocated in Ohrid by Albanian
political leaders is very similar to a controversial all-Albanian
declaration signed in Prizren. In a statement to the Macedonian
Albanian-language daily Fakti, Ahmeti underlined the importance of
cooperation between the National Liberation Army and ethnic Albanian
political leaders, because the National Liberation Army would fail in
its struggle without their support.
Among other things, Ahmeti recently told the Skopje daily Utrinski
Vesnik, that ethnic Albanians in Macedonia "were forced to go to war"
and that before the armed conflict broke out, "no government official
sat down with the Albanians in Macedonia to talk about meeting their
demands and needs." Ahmeti claims that the National Liberation Army
cannot be described as terrorist, "because it only shoots at people in
uniform." He is definitely benefiting from the lack of unity within
the Macedonian leadership, i.e. from their different views of whether
they should negotiate or fight, with the Social Democrats led by
Branko Crvenkovski favoring the former option. In the meantime, the
Albanians are getting more weaponry, thus buying time and, with
negotiations dragging on, strengthening their forces.
Among the NLA fighters are many who are very well trained and who
fought in the wars in former Yugoslavia, especially in Kosovo and
southern Serbia and who, until recently, used to freely cross
Macedonia's borders with Albania, Kosovo, and Serbia. Most of them
entered Macedonian territory after KFOR arrived in Kosovo and after
the clashes in southern Serbia ended.
At the end of June, the U.S. administration announced a list of
Albanian organizations and Albanians who are banned from entering
the U.S., which includes the leaders of the National Liberation Army
and the Liberation Army of Presevo, Bujanovac, and Medvedja, that is,
Ahmeti and his assistants as well.
EU foreign ministers recently agreed that there should be a ban on
visas for Albanian extremists and the decision on implementing this
measure will be made by the EU high representative, Javier Solana.
Ahmeti is among the 38 ethnic Albanian extremists who might face the
Alija Isam Ahmeti was born on Jan. 4, 1959, in the village of Zajas,
near Kicevo, where he finished elementary and secondary school. He was
a student at the Faculty of Philosophy in Pristina, but never
He entered politics as a student, at a time when Kosovo and Metohija
was part of the former Yugoslavia. At 20 he was sentenced to six
months in prison and served his time in Macedonia, in one of the
prisons for dissidents who rejected communist ideas. After leaving
prison, Ahmeti fled to Switzerland and later returned to the country
to organize, together with other Kosovo nationalists, demonstrations
in the province.
In 1980 Ahmeti became a member of the separatist organization called
Marxists-Leninists of Kosovo, and was one of the organizers of the
student demonstrations in Pristina the following year.
Afterwards, he again emigrated to Switzerland, where he joined the
illegal Movement for an Albanian Socialist Republic in Yugoslavia. In
1985 he formed the Marxist-Leninist of Kosovo sub-committee for
Ahmeti points out that he was ideologically influenced mostly by his
uncle, Fazli Veliju, an Albanologist and former high school teacher,
who also emigrated to Switzerland and is wanted by the Macedonian
According to what the U.S. Washington Post reported in March 2001, the
KLA idea was born in 1992, at a meeting in a Zurich club, attended by
Ahmeti and his uncle, a minister of Kosovo's shadow government, Ramush
Tahiri, and other Albanian activists, including Ermush Xhemaili, now
the National Liberation Army's military coordinator.
When the KLA was formed in 1994, its leaders saw parts of Macedonia
mostly inhabited by ethnic Albanians as a natural base for their
operations. Macedonia was used as a transit zone for transferring
weapons from Albania and Greece to KLA fighters in Kosovo.
The same group concluded that the Albanian question in Macedonia could
not be resolved without war, so in 1993 Ahmeti went to Macedonia and
formed a local branch of the illegal National Committee for Kosovo.
Until 1997, Ahmeti spent most of his time in Tirana, where he
organized guerrilla groups, which entered Kosovo and attacked the
police. In March 2001, the British daily Independent said that Ahmeti
himself participated in the clashes in Kosovo as a KLA fighter.
After the war in Kosovo ended, with the help of NATO's air raids on
Yugoslavia, Ahmeti returned to Macedonia. As one of the founders of
the National Liberation Army, he is now at the top of the formation.
In an interview to TV Kosova, Ahmeti explained the forming of the
National Liberation Army as a consequence of the pushing of Albanian
representatives in the Macedonian parliament to the margin, i.e.
disregarding of their demands. "Albanians in Macedonia are
discriminated against and are denied even the basic rights which any
nation is entitled to," he said.
Ahmeti recently opened a new chapter in the crisis in Macedonia,
announcing the appointment of "diplomatic representatives" of this
paramilitary formation to seven European countries (Germany,
Switzerland, and the countries of the Benelux and Scandinavia).
The Skopje public prosecutor indicted Ahmeti and 10 of his closest
associates on July 30, 2001. The leaders of the National Liberation
Army are accused of the crimes of "endangering the territorial
integrity of the country," "armed rebellion," "terrorism and
subversive activities," and Ali Ahmeti, his uncle Fazli Veliju, and
Gezim Osteni, from the leadership of the National Liberation Army,
with the crimes of "genocide, and war crimes against civilians and
prisoners of war."
Ahmeti is married and has two children.