National Liberation Army (North Macedonia)

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National Liberation Army
Ushtria Çlirimtare Kombëtare
Participant in the insurgency in the Republic of Macedonia
Uck Nla logo.svg
2004–present (splinter groups)
LeadersAli Ahmeti
Samidin Xhezairi
Ahmet Krasniqi
Rahim Beqiri 
HeadquartersŠar Mountains
Area of operationsNorthwestern Macedonia and the Skopje statistical region
Allies Albania
Kosovo Liberation Army emblem Kosovo Liberation Army
Opponent(s) Republic of Macedonia
KFOR KFOR in Macedonia
Battles and war(s)Insurgency in the Republic of Macedonia
Originated as
formed by former Kosovo Liberation Army members

The National Liberation Army (Albanian: Ushtria Çlirimtare Kombëtare – UÇK, Macedonian: Ослободителна народна армија – ОНА, Osloboditelna narodna armija – ONA), also known as the Macedonian UÇK, was a militant[1] organization that operated in North Macedonia (then the Republic of Macedonia) in 2001 and was closely associated with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).[2]

Following the 2001 Macedonian War, it was disarmed through the Ohrid Agreement, which gave greater rights and autonomy to the state's Macedonian Albanians.


Ali Ahmeti organized the NLA from former KLA fighters from Kosovo and Macedonia; Albanian insurgents from Preševo, Medveđa and Bujanovac in Serbia; young Albanian radicals; nationalists from Macedonia; and foreign mercenaries.[3] The acronym was the same as the KLA's in Albanian.[3]

The Macedonian War[edit]

The NLA was founded in the fall of 1999 and initially led by former KLA Commander Ali Ahmeti, nephew of one of the founders of the KLA. The NLA operated quietly until it began to openly engage the Macedonian military and police. The NLA's proclaimed goal was equal rights for the ethnic Albanian minority within a confederate Macedonia.[4] Senior NLA commanders insisted that "We do not want to endanger the stability and the territorial integrity of Macedonia, but we will fight a guerrilla war until we have won our basic rights, until we are accepted as an equal people inside Macedonia."[5] The Macedonian government claimed the NLA were an extremist terrorist organization seeking to separate Albanian majority areas and unite those territories with Albania.

Beginning on January 22, 2001, the NLA began to carry out attacks on Macedonian security forces using light weapons.[6] The conflict soon escalated and, by the start of March 2001, the NLA had taken effective control of a large swathe of northern and western Macedonia and had come within 12 miles of the capital Skopje.[4]

In March 2001, NLA members failed to take the city of Tetovo in an open attack, but controlled the hills and mountains between Tetovo and Kosovo. On May 3, a Macedonian government counteroffensive failed in the Kumanovo area.[4] By June 8, the rebels took Aračinovo, a village outside of Skopje. On August 13, the two sides signed a peace deal ending the open conflict.

Composition and military capabilities[edit]

The NLA was estimated to comprise 5,000 men at its peak and some of its members were trained by British SAS and Parachute Regiment officers.[7][8] As was the case with the KLA, they were fairly lightly armed – generally with small arms and mortars – though there were later reports that they had acquired FIM-92 Stinger and SAM-7 anti-aircraft missiles. As the war progressed the rebels managed to acquire heavy weapons including T-55 tanks and armoured personnel carriers captured from Macedonian government forces.[9][10]

War crimes[edit]

Conflict areas

Although the conflict in Macedonia was brief, it was not scant of war crimes. According to Human Rights Watch, "Ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia tortured, sexually abused road workers after abducting them from the Skopje-Tetovo highway."[11]

Dozens of ethnic Macedonians were kidnapped. While many were released after a short time, 12 people apparently remained missing after the NLA released 14 others in late September. In October, reports suggested that the 12 may have been killed and buried in mass graves near Neproshteno. The case was referred by the Macedonian government to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for investigation.

Another incident which is claimed by the Macedonian government to be a war crime was that of the so-called Vejce ambush, where Albanian guerrillas ambushed and killed eight Macedonian special forces from the Lions unit. A patrol of 16 special operatives were coming back from a raid in a nearby village, where they allegedly looted and beat the villagers as had become routine for the patrol in five villages.[citation needed] Because their route was always the same, the guerillas were able to learn route and approximate timing. The families of the dead soldiers and several ministers claim that the information was sold to the guerrillas and that a major betrayal took place. The guerillas set up an ambush, attacking the patrol's lightly armored Humvee vehicles with small arms fire and RPGs. The patrol stopped and Macedonian forces and guerrillas exchanged fire in a short skirmish, after which the soldiers started retreating. Half of the patrol managed to escape, one soldier was shot and seven others captured and allegedly executed with knives and then their corpses were allegedly burned.

News of the massacre sparked local uprisings against Muslim Albanians in several towns and cities across Macedonia, and such revolts included burning and vandalizing shops and mosques. Surviving members of the roadside patrol that was massacred gave eyewitness testimony of the killings. They claimed that the massacre was carried out by a group of 10 bearded men. The bodies were never released to the public or civilian investigators and autopsies were carried out in a military morgue.[12][failed verification]

The was also an alleged NLA bombing of the 13th-century Orthodox monastery Sveti Atanasij in the village of Lesok.[13] However, no one has ever claimed responsibility for the attack and Albanian guerrilla officials have dismissed all responsibility and placed the blame on Macedonian special forces, saying it was another poor attempt to link the NLA to Islamic extremism, like that of the Asian immigrant massacre, and that these incidents were putting the Ohrid Agreement and the established peace treaty into jeopardy. Eyewitnesses interviewed by British Telegraph claimed that participants in this incident came from the ethnic Macedonian village of Rate. Even the Macedonian ministers and diplomats in Skopje agreed that the possibility of this attacking being carried out by Albanians was unlikely as the NLA had no history of attacking any religious or cultural buildings or sites.

NATO military experts said that "the fact that the battery was lying within an area spattered by rubble and wreckage seemed to suggest that it was detonated using a relatively sophisticated timer device;" also, the extensive amount of explosive used and the type of explosive all pointed to the Macedonian military.[14] This incident is to this day disputed and the monastery is now under reconstruction, with some donations from the Albanian Islamic Union of Macedonia as a gesture of good faith, and from the Macedonian government.[15] On the other hand, the Macedonian forces blew up a mosque in the town of Neprosteno. Both structures were rebuilt in 2003 with funding from the EU. The most notable incident was the infamous Asian Immigrant Massacre, when Macedonian special police forces murdered six Pakistanis and Indian immigrants, afterwards planting weapons, explosive and Islamic literature on the corpses claiming they were Al-Qaida cells which were about to attack US Embassy in Skopje. This was done by the Macedonian government to link the Albanian guerrillas to Al-Qaida so that Macedonia could gain sympathy form the west by making it seem they were fighting a War on Terror against Islamic extremists. This war crime was heavily criticized by the whole world and caused Macedonia to lose much of its foreign support, especially from the West. The EU and Pakistan strongly insisted that the people responsible for this war crime be brought to justice, but the four men allegedly responsible for this were cleared of all charges and were praised after they left court.[16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24] There were disturbing images of the dead bodies released to parade the victims on TV as trophies.[25][26]

Other crimes were like that of a three-day operation by Macedonian police against the ethnic Albanian village of Ljuboten, from August 10–12, 2001, which left ten civilians dead and resulted in the arrest of more than 100 men, many of whom were severely beaten and tortured while in police custody.[27] According to the Macedonian government there was an NLA presence in the village; however, the Human Rights Watch investigation on the ground in Ljuboten found no evidence of this and said it was a clear violation by Macedonian forces on human rights. These events led to the trial of the Macedonian Minister of Internal Affairs of the time, Ljube Boškoski, in the International War Crime Tribunal in The Hague.[27] Eventually he was found not guilty.[28]

Ceasefire and disarmament[edit]

After the Ohrid Agreement, the NLA agreed to a ceasefire in June. Under the Ohrid Agreement, the Macedonian government pledged to improve the rights of the Albanian population, that make up just over 25% of the population.[29] Those rights include making Albanian an official language, increasing the participation of ethnic Albanians in government institutions, police and the army. Most importantly, under the Ohrid Agreement, the Macedonian government agreed to a new model of decentralization.

The Albanian side agreed to give up any separatist demands and to fully recognize all Macedonian institutions. In addition, the NLA was to disarm and hand over their weapons to a NATO force.

U.S. soldier loading up NLA fighters on a truck heading to a detention center

Operation Essential Harvest was officially launched on 22 August and effectively started on 27 August. This 30-day mission was to initially involve approximately 3,500 NATO troops, a number that went up to 4,200 NATO troops and Macedonian troops, to disarm the NLA and destroy their weapons. Just hours after NATO wrapped up the operation, Ali Ahmeti told reporters attending a news conference in the rebel stronghold of Sipkovica that he was dissolving the National Liberation Army and that it was time for ethnic reconciliation.

Many members of the Albanian NLA, led by Ali Ahmeti, later formed the Democratic Union for Integration, a political party that won the majority of the Albanian votes in the 2002 election and formed part of the ruling coalition along with SDSM and LDP until August 2006 when, following July 2006 parliamentary elections, a conservative VMRO-DPMNE / DPA coalition came to government.

The total casualties of the war on each side are not known, but both sides claimed their own military casualties were around 60 each, while about 60–80 ethnic Albanian civilians and possibly about ten Macedonian civilians are thought to have been killed.

Later developments[edit]

In 2004 and 2005 a group of 80 militants[30] led by Agim Krasniqi controlled the village of Kondovo twice. Through the media, Krasniqi threatened to shell Skopje and his men kidnapped and beat four police officers.

In 2007 a group of at least 23 militants controlled the region of the village Brodec on the Šar Mountains. The police launched Operation Mountain Storm and defeated the group.[31]

In April 2010, a weapon cache believed to be intended for group actions was discovered near the border with Serbia; it included uniforms with UÇK marks.[32]

The NLA claimed responsibly for the 2014 Skopje government attack.[33] The organization, in the letter signed by "Kushtrimi" to the government, claimed that the "Hasan Prishtina" elite force hit the government building in a coordinated action.[33] The organization claims it is dissatisfied with the 2001 Ohrid Agreement.[33]

On 21 April 2015, a group of 40 armed men with NLA patches attacked a border police station at Gošince. The group tied the policemen up and beat them, then stole their arms and communication devices. Before they left for Kosovo, the issued the message: "We are from the National Liberation Army. Tell them that neither Ali Ahmeti nor Nikola Gruevski can save you. We do not want any framework agreement and if we see you here again, we will kill you. We want our own state."[34][35]

During the Kumanovo clashes, 14 of the 22 of the belligerents killed wore uniforms with NLA insignia, according to Nikola Gruevski the armed group did not have the support of members of the Albanian minority contrary to the 2001 conflict.[36]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Pugh; Sidhu 2003, p. 126
  2. ^ Prezelj 2008, pp. 49–50
  3. ^ a b Kolstø 2009, p. 173
  4. ^ a b c "Macedonia timeline". the Guardian. 2001-08-22. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  5. ^ "BBC News – EUROPE – Who are the rebels?". 2001-03-20. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  6. ^ "Three Serb policemen killed by Kosovar extremists", The Scotsman, 19 February 2001
  7. ^ Friends of Bosnia article, Albanian rebels, trained by the SAS are gaining ground in Macedonia, aiming for the key city of Tetovo Archived 2006-12-23 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "How many groups, how many guns?", The Economist, 25 August 2001
  9. ^ "BBC News – EUROPE – Macedonia sets new peace conditions". September 2001. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  10. ^ "Macedonia on brink of war", Sunday Times, 10 June 2001
  11. ^ "Torture, Kidnappings by Albanians in Macedonia – Human Rights Watch". Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-07-22. Retrieved 2009-07-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "Macedonia blast hits monastery". the Guardian. 2001-08-21. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  14. ^ Smith, Michael (2001-08-22). "Monastery blast fails to derail Nato peace effort". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  15. ^ "Macedonia blast hits monastery". BBC News. 2001-08-21. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  16. ^ "Macedonian police kill suspected militants". UPI. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  17. ^ Ansar Burney Trust – Human Trafficking and Smuggling – Slave Labor/Labour Archived 2009-08-18 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ "Macedonia men cleared of murder". BBC News. 2005-04-22. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  19. ^ "Macedonia 'fake raid' trial opens". BBC News. 2004-11-15. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  20. ^ "'Fake shoot-out' minister sought". BBC News. 2004-05-04. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  21. ^ "Macedonia's 'mujahideen' – immigrants or terrorists?". BBC News. 2002-03-20. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  22. ^ "Macedonia shows off dead 'militants'". BBC News. 2002-03-03. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  23. ^ "'Foreign militants' killed in Macedonia". BBC News. 2002-03-02. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  24. ^ "Macedonia faked 'militant' raid". BBC News. 2004-04-30. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
  25. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-10-13. Retrieved 2009-07-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  26. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-10-13. Retrieved 2009-07-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  27. ^ a b "Macedonia – Crimes Against Civilians: Abuses by Macedonian Forces in Ljuboten, August 10–12, 2001". Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  28. ^ "TRIAL : Profiles". Archived from the original on 15 January 2010. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  29. ^ "CIA – The World Factbook – Macedonia". Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  30. ^ "Macedonian Opposition Parties Cry Foul Over Government's Handling of Armed Standoff". 2005-09-29. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
  31. ^ "Macedonian Special Police Eliminate Armed Albanian Group with Paramilitary, Wahhabi Ties, Seizing Massive Arsenal". November 11, 2007.
  32. ^ "Page Redirection". Archived from the original on 2 May 2010. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  33. ^ a b c "'Liberation Army' Claims it Shelled Macedonian Govt". Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  34. ^ "MKD: Teroristi OVK upali u karaulu" (in Serbian). B92. 21 April 2015.
  35. ^ "Plus info, Macedonia: Terrorists with National Liberation Army attack police station in Gosince". FOCUS News Agency. 21 April 2015.
  36. ^ "Macedonian police killed in clashes with 'terrorists'". Independent. 10 May 2015.


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