Battle of Tetovo

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Battle of Tetovo
Part of the Macedonian War
20090715 Tetovo view from the mountain.jpg
View of Tetovo
Date 16 March – 13 August 2001
(4 months and 4 weeks)
Location Tetovo, Republic of Macedonia
Result Ceasefire - Ohrid Agreement signed
 Macedonia National Liberation Army (112th Brigade)  NATO
Commanders and leaders
Boris Trajkovski
Pande Petrovski
Ljube Boskovski
Ljubco Georgievski
Rahim Beqiri
Hamdi Ndrecaj
Gezim Ostreni
George Robertson
Admiral Guido Venturoni
10,000+[1] 2,500 – 3,000[2] 4,800[1]
Casualties and losses
25 soldiers Unknown[3]

The Battle of Tetovo was the largest engagement during the 2001 insurgency in the Republic of Macedonia, in which Macedonian security forces battled Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army for control of the city.


Tetovo is a large city in Macedonia,[4][5][6] the majority of whose citizens are ethnic Albanians.[7] During the break up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, over 2,000 ethnic Albanians marched through Tetovo demanding secession from the Socialist Republic of Macedonia and unity with Albania. Self-determination of an ethnic minority within a state was not a right under the Socialist Republic of Macedonia’s constitution,[8] and protesting their lack of representation under the constitution of a new Republic of Macedonia, the Albanians of Macedonia boycotted the referendum on independence from Yugoslavia and were thus excluded from almost any representation in the new government.[8] Tetovo became headquarters of the new Albanian political parties, which were regarded as unconstitutional by the Republic of Macedonia. Tensions worsened, Tetovo, along with the city of Gostivar, took in and sheltered several thousands of Bosnian Muslim refugees from 1992 until the end of the Bosnian war.[9] Prior to the NATO bombing of Serb forces in Kosovo, Tetovo became the rear supply base for the Kosovo Liberation Army,[8] and then later home to over 100,000 Kosovar refugees from the Kosovo war.[9] Gligorov’s plan to re-allocate the Kosovar refugees to Albania via refugee corridor through Macedonia had been abandoned, and the refugees began to gather in Tetovo, Gostivar and the western Albanian dominated towns during the late summer months.[10] The KLA began to use the Tetovo hospital to treat the wounded combatants. As the ethnic Albanian unofficial capital in Macedonia, Tetovo was crowded with refugees from Kosovo and was deeply involved in the munitions supply to the KLA.[10]

The Albanian-dominated town of Tetovo had been deeply involved in the Kosovo war since the spring of 1998, and some leading KLA officials came from Tetovo, such as Bardhyl Mahmuti.[10] Many educated Albanians in Tetovo under 50 years of age had attended Pristina University before it was purged of ethnic Albanian teachers in the early 1990s. Before 1991 Kosovo and Macedonia formed part of Yugoslavia which meant unrestricted access between the entities.[10]

In 1997, Alajdin Demiri, the mayor of Tetovo, was jailed for raising the double headed eagle flag of Albania from Tetovo town hall and by 2000 the outbreak of hostilities in Tanusevci had spilled into the towns of Tetovo and Gostivar.[8] With the formation of an insurgency, the National Liberation Front (NLA) began seizing territory in and around the Tetovo area. Skirmishes between the insurgency and government forces became commonplace in other portions of the country.

The Macedonian forces, numbering more than 3,000, held a limited amount of armour and artillery. Reportedly, they possessed a number of armoured personnel carriers, 105 mm and 122 mm Howitzers, ex-Bulgarian T-55 tanks. The bulk of their force consisted of reservists at the brink of conflict. These numbers were to rapidly rise in the following months as the military expenditures of Macedonia quadrupled to almost 7% of GDP which resulted in major purchases of military hardware mainly from Ukraine and Bulgaria. Also the mobilisation of special police forces like that of the Lions and Wolves unit. By the heighten period of the conflict the whole 1st mechanized brigade was stationed in and around Tetovo municipality.

The NLA, on the other hand, had only an assortment of rockets, assault weapons, and mortars. A mainly guerilla force, however, they experienced the luxury of concealed positions in the mountains ringing the city. Weapons and supplies found their way from Kosovo to the frontlines over the Šar Mountains through horse caravans. Mounts Baltepe and Mount Kale were a major strong points, both of which held ancient fortresses left over from the Ottoman Empire. The rebels constructed a series of trenches and bunkers in defence.


Opening phase

During the afternoon of 16 March, ethnic Albanians held a nationalist rally in town. Around this time, machine gun fire opened up on Macedonian police from the Baltepes hill. The confrontation in Tetovo began when about 15 rebels opened fire with rifles in the suburb of Kale about 1.2 miles north of the city centre and in the nearby village of Selce.[11] The NLA proceeded to engage with sniper fire and mortar attacks.

The first civilian death was an Albanian taxi driver who was killed on the first day of the rebellion in the old Ottoman neighbourhood of Koltuk when the police opened fire with machine guns indiscriminately, even though the main fighting at the time was taking place 1.2 miles away, beyond the Kale, the fortress above the city, in the village of Lavce.[11]

Fifteen Macedonian police and a NATO German soldier were also wounded when joint barracks in the outskirts of the town where hit by mortar fire. The next day, the German Ministry of Defence moved in two Leopard 2 tanks from Prizren, in Kosovo, in order to protect the base.[12][13] Half of the 1,200 German troops were evacuated to another location eight kilometers away.[14] By 20 March, another 400 KFOR German combat troops equipped with Marder armoured vehicles[14] and more Leopard II tanks had been deployed in Tetovo.[15] Civilians continued on with their daily business, but the streets became empty. Cafes and shops were deserted and electricity was cut off to part of the town. For the cafes that remained open, it was common to see some people taking the risk of watching gun battles.

In the battle for Tetovo, the Macedonian Army was frequently outmanoeuvred by the highly mobile guerrillas and their military leader, Gezim Ostreni.[11] Born in Debar in western Macedonia, Ostreni was a veteran who had served in the Yugoslav Army and until April 2001 was a deputy commander in the Kosovo Protection Corps. Ostreni was typical of ethnic Albanians, who saw no future for themselves in the post-independence Macedonian Army whose officer corps was dominated by Macedonians.[11] Ostreni was not only a gifted tactician but also an author on military affairs who wrote a book on the partisan movement in Macedonia during the Second World War in which he examined the myth of a Macedonian/partisan democratic victory.

On 21 March, the two sides witnessed a brief cease fire. The day was quiet without a single shot. By this point in time, however, thousands of residents had fled the city. Those whom remained pressed on with life as best as they could while both factions licked their wounds. It was also on this day that the Macedonian army scaled Kale Hill under cover of artillery and gunfire.

On 22 March, after two months of sporadic violence, two Albanians were gunned down near the football stadium in the eastern districts. The two men approached a Macedonian checkpoint in a white car, only to be shot as they tried to throw grenades. Images of the dead men became famous, marking the insurgency's first martyrs and bringing Macedonia's violence to the world spotlight.

The Macedonians proceeded to beef up their security forces and deployed tanks in support.

Macedonian Army soldiers were attacked near the village of Vejce, nine miles north of Tetovo. Stevo Pendarovski, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said ‘‘Eight are killed and two are injured. They were fired at with machine guns and rocket launchers. Macedonian forces responded, and the attackers withdrew. The situation is quiet now. It was an isolated incident.’’[11] The assumption was premature. The slaying of the eight commandos, which was an enormous loss for a country of only two million people, provoked the first civilian backlash by Macedonians grouped in sinister new paramilitarystyle, ‘self-defence’ organisations in the southern city of Bitola, 170 kilometres (120 miles) south of Skopje, from where four of the dead soldiers came.[11] Ethnic Macedonian crowds looted and set fire to Albanian shops.[11]

In Tetovo's old town, a sandbag checkpoint near the Church of St. Nicholas suffered frequent shelling from houses in the highlands. Over the next few days, several skirmishes broke out throughout the hills. A Macedonian Mi-17 helicopter crashed while ferrying police forces to a ski resort on the outskirts of town, killing the pilot and wounding 16 policemen. Most the rebels held out on Baltepe Mountain. From the Koltak district, Macedonian forces poured fire onto Albanian positions. This was often returned with machine gun, sniper, and mortar fire.

A series of blasts was clearly visible in the hills above Tetovo as terrified residents scurried for cover below. The hills had been occupied by Albanian guerrilla forces for the past week. The Macedonian army was firing indiscriminately and several of the rising columns of smoke came from civilian houses.[4] There was no word on casualties, but the risk to civilians was high. The hills around Tetovo are dotted with houses and it was not clear if they had all been evacuated.[4] The NLA stood their ground.

A short time after the start of the Government offensive, the Macedonian army issued an ultimatum, giving the NLA 24 hours to cease hostilities and surrender, or leave Macedonia.[4] After the deadline, Macedonian security forces continued using all their means against positions of the rebels. The Macedonian onslaught began just hours after the rebels offered to join peace talks.[4]

Staunch resistance by 100 NLA fighters cornered in the Gracani area after the Tetovo fighting continued to embarrass the ARM, whose infantry units seemed extremely reluctant to engage in an open battle.[11]

Second phase

On 6 June another cease-fire was initiated, which lasted eighteen days. Just before noon on 22 July, machine gun and small arms fire shattered the silence once again. As U.S. and European envoys met with President Boris Trajkovski in Skopje on 23 July, the battle reached Tetovo's suburbs.

On the 23rd, the Macedonians used ex-Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopters for the first time in the conflict, responding to Albanian mortar fire that wounded 20 civilians in the Koltuk area. Despite the addition of these new helicopters and superior firepower, the army was not experienced at counterinsurgency operations and resorted to sledgehammer tactics.[16] With the hills and mountains behind the city and dozens of Albanian-populated villages to count on for support, the rebels knew they were in a strong position in Tetovo.[16]

In the Drenovac district, rebels and government forces fought heavily for the town's sports stadium. The fall of the stadium and government checkpoint left the rebels within fifty yards of the city center. Residents of the areas were instructed to leave their homes by Macedonian forces.[17]

During the fierce fighting that engulfed Tetovo from 22 to 24 July, a 12-year-old Albanian girl, Jehina Saliu, was mortally wounded in Poroj. The shelling of Poroj killed nine civilians on 23 July alone. Jeff Bieley, a journalist who was covering the conflict, found himself trapped in a basement in the village during the bombardment. ‘‘It was held by the NLA in as much as police could not go there,’’ he recalled, ‘but it was mainly a civilian target.’[11][17] Thirteen civilians and five government soldiers were injured. Macedonian government forces also shelled villages surrounding Tetovo, which were under control of Albanian rebels.[11]

Final phase

The Ohrid peace negotiations finally came into play on 8 August. By then, Tetovo was practically a ghost city, most of its residents having fled the fighting. On 12 August 2001, ten ethnic Albanians in the village of Ljuboten were killed by government forces – evidently in revenge for the slaying of eight Macedonian commandos blown up by land mines and ten other soldiers killed in an NLA ambush. The eight soldiers were killed, and eight others were wounded, on the morning of 10 August, when a Macedonian military truck ran over two anti-tank mines on a remote country road on the Skopska Crna Gorna mountain just north of Skopje.[11]

Ljuboten also gave an international profile for the first time to Ljube Boskovski, the hardline Interior Minister who is a hero to many ordinary Macedonians but a simple-minded warlord in the eyes of many ethnic Albanians. President Trajkovski dismissed the Macedonian Army Chief of Staff, General Pande Petrovski, on 9 August, following the attack on the convoy. Petrovski had told Macedonia’s National Security Council that he ‘would take responsibility’ for the casualties. His deputy, General Metodij Stamboliski, replaced him. This was the fourth time that the armed forces command had changed hands in less than two months, another telling sign of the Macedonian Army’s inability to cope with the rebellion.[11]

The next day, the rebels attacked Macedonian army barracks in central Tetovo, sending black plumes of smoke above the northern and southwestern suburbs. Part of the barracks and an armored personnel carrier were set on fire in the fighting. The NLA attacked the army barracks in the city of Tetovo with machine guns and grenade launchers, killing an army soldier.[11] The Macedonian National Security Council, in response, authorized another offensive against the NLA. Macedonian forces concentrated their attack around the suburb of Teqe, of which a graveyard separated both factions.


On 13 August, Macedonian and Albanian representatives signed the Ohrid Agreement, ending most of the fighting. Over the next few months, NATO and Macedonian troops worked to disarm the NLA, which ceded power after the thirty-day Operation Essential Harvest.

As a result of the fighting, the Red Cross estimated that 76,000 people fled their homes. Though the major violence ended on the 13th, skirmishes and harassment remained common throughout the Tetovo area. On 14 August, A Macedonian policeman was shot dead by suspected ethnic Albanian rebels in Tetovo, puncturing the fragile ceasefire declared on Sunday as part of a plan to end the six-month rebellion and pave the way for the disarmament of the guerrilla National Liberation Army. An NLA commander said a civilian had been injured in the shooting at the Drenovec checkpoint in a Tetovo suburb. He accused police of opening fire.

A western ambassador in Skopje cautioned that NATO force would most likely remain for a while after the disarmament process as the Albanian youths have had a taste of a successful insurgency. Part of the guerrilla group feels very sure of itself and might not surrender its weapons.[18] The Macedonian Army and paramilitary police suffered a series of defeats by the rebels in Tetovo and the Kumanovo region, at Aracinovo on the outskirts of Skopje and in the renewed fighting that raged near both Tetovo and Kosovo in August.[11]

On 12 November, three Macedonian police officers were ambushed and killed in the village of Trebos.[19]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Issues: The 2001 Conflict
  2. The Europa World Year Book. 11 New Fetter Lane, London, EC4P 4EE, England: Europa Publications. 2004. p. 2708. ISBN 1-85743-253-3. Retrieved 2014-10-19. 
  3. Kriegsgefahr: Ausgangssperre über Tetovo verhängt – Spiegel Online – Nachrichten – Politik. (18 March 2001). Retrieved on 19 October 2010.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "Macedonian tanks shell Tetovo guerrillas". New Zealand Herald. 21 March 2001. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  5. "Battle tanks move into Tetovo". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 20 March 2001. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  6. "Rebels retreat, still tension in Tetovo". Kingman Daily Miner. 21 March 2001. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  7. Frucht, Richard C. (2005). Eastern Europe: An Introduction to the People, Lands, and Culture. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-57607-800-6. Retrieved 29 October 2008. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Evans, Thammy (2012). Macedonia. Bradt Travel Guides Ltd, IDC House, The Vale, Chalfront St Peter, Bucks SL9 9RZ, England: The Globe Pequot Press Inc. pp. 238–239. ISBN 978 1 84162 395 5. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 John Sparrow. "International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies". Retrieved 10 March 2011. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Pettifer, James (2007). The Albanian Question: Reshaping the Balkans. 6 Salem Road, London W2 4BU, England: I.B Tauris & Co Ltd. pp. 225–239. ISBN 978 1 86064 974 5. Retrieved 2014-09-12. 
  11. 11.00 11.01 11.02 11.03 11.04 11.05 11.06 11.07 11.08 11.09 11.10 11.11 11.12 11.13 Phillips, John (2004). Macedonia: Warlords and Rebels in the Balkans. 6 Salem Road, London W2 4BU; 175 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10010: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd. ISBN 1 86064 841 X. Retrieved 2014-09-29. 
  12. Cleaver, Hanna; La Guardia, Anton (17 March 2001). "Germany sends tanks into Macedonia". The Telegraph. Retrieved 7 December 2014. 
  13. Phillips, John (2004) Macedonia: Warlords and Rebels in the Balkans. I.B.Tauris, p. 92. ISBN 186064841X
  14. 14.0 14.1 Deutscher Generalinspekteur Kujat warnt Angreifer in Mazedonien 17 March 2001 (German)
  15. Nato raises Macedonian profile BBC news, 20 March 2001
  16. 16.0 16.1 Gall, Carlotta (23 July 2001). "Rebels Secure a Base in Macedonian Town". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-09-27. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 "Macedonia issues rebel ultimatum", CNN (24 July 2001).
  18. Wood, Nicholas (17 August 2001). "Bloodshed on eve of Nato arrival". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-09-27. 
  19. "Macedonia police killed in ambush", BBC News (12 November 2001).


  • Diary of an Uncivil War, by Scott Taylor, Esprit de Corps Books (22 February 2002).
  • Macedonia: Warlords and Rebels in the Balkans, by John Phillips, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2004.

External links