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The special police force ‘Lions’ places the peace process in Macedonia at risk

The special police force ‘Lions’ places the peace process in Macedonia at risk Posted December 4, 2001
http://www.ihf-hr.org/appeals/011204mem.htm

M E M O R A N D U M
The special police force ‘Lions’ places the peace process in Macedonia at risk
Skopje, Vienna, 4 December 2001

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Macedonia (MHC) are deeply worried about the legal institutionalization of a special police unit called ‘Lions’ within the Macedonian Interior Ministry. The way this unit was formed and the way it works places the fragile peace process in Macedonia at risk. The unit is mono-ethnic, and their members allegedly include many former criminals.

Background

In the presence of President Trajkovski, Prime Minister Georgievski and Interior Minister Boskovski, a new special unit named ‘Lions’, designed to perform combat and anti-terrorist actions, was publicly promoted on 2nd November 2001, after having been established by a decision of the Government.

Before being legalized, the unit had existed in a semi-legal manner for several months, acting under the direct command of the Minister of Interior himself, especially in the area of the armed conflict. It was formed as a response to the violent paramilitary acts of the UCK as a parallel structure outside of the regular police system. The unit was designed to be used in situations where it was considered necessary to step outside the boundaries of the law, or when the local or international control was to be avoided.

Questions about the Selection Process and Training of Members of this Unit

The ‘Lions’ allegedly are a mixture of experienced police officers and military reservists assigned to the Ministry of Interior. Deep ambiguities exist regarding the selection process of its candidates. While, technically, the selection was governed by established criteria for joining a unit for special tasks - medical examinations, physical and psychological tests - critics in Macedonia claim that there has been no particular acceptance procedure and no precise criteria in the recruitment.

While the members from this force went through a special police and military training, this training was limited in several respects. In particular, they were not thoroughly trained concerning the limitations and responsibilities of the police, that is, in human rights principles.

According to some reports, some persons with criminal records or accused of criminal acts are members of these units. This practice has in principle become lawful, since the Constitutional Court of Macedonia quashed in May 2001 previous provisions from the Law on Internal Affairs prohibiting convicted persons of entering the police force.

The IHF recommends that the selection for a special law-enforcement force should be undertaken in a way to ensure the highest standards of professionalism, and to avoid questions such as those now surrounding the ‘Lions’, questions that destroy confidence in the security forces and indeed, in the state itself.

The deepest flaw of this unit is that no Albanians or members of minority groups are members. We fear that this unit might be used for ‘solving’ interethnic tensions in a more than ill-defined manner in the future and therefore could become a source of increased tensions. Furthermore the symbol of the ‘Lions’ bears a close resemblance to that of the main VMRO-DPMNE governing party.

Attempt of the Ministry of Interior to Obstruct the Process of Building a Multi-Ethnic Police Force

On November 9th, 2001 the Ministry for Interior officially adopted the orthodox Saint Dimitry as the patron of the Ministry for Interior. We regard that as another obstacle for the implementation of one of the key provisions of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which is the multiethnic (and multi-confessional) composition of the police and the state administration.

The Danger Posed by the Albanian National Army (ANA) to the Peace Process

The IHF and the MHC do not put into question per se, that the Macedonian state forms a special unit for fighting terrorism. We acknowledge that the Macedonian state has a legitimate right and duty to confront terrorism and extremism and to defend its territorial integrity, constitutional order, public peace and security. We consider that the existence and activities of the Albanian National Army (ANA) are a severe threat to the peace process, which has to be dealt with in a state that wants to uphold the rule of law and to ensure the human rights of all of its citizens.

The ANA claimed responsibility for the recent killing of three members of the special police force ‘Lions’ in the village of Treboc on November 11th 2001, as well as for the abduction of dozens of civilian hostages. It was also the same group that had claimed responsibility for the 10 soldiers killed on 8th August in an ambush on the highway between Skopje and Tetovo, and for the landmine explosion that killed eight soldiers near the village of Ljuboten on August 10th, in an vain attempt to hinder the main Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political parties to sign the Ohrid Framework Agreement. It is not fully clear if this group is a disguised radical splinter group of the officially fully disbanded National Liberation Army (NLA), or if the NLA has no connection with them.

For further information: International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Aaron Rhodes, Joachim Frank, Tel. +43-1-408 88 22, +43-676-635 66 12, +43-676 312 23 48
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Macedonia, Mirjana Najcevska, Tel. +389-2-119 073, +389-70-268 572

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