I suppose I should start by saying that I’m safe, my village is safe, and all the volunteers here are safe, but today is a national day of mourning.
Yesterday was as well.
The government declared the two-day, nationwide grieving period to honor eight police officers killed Saturday after a fire fight with a purported terrorist group. In the post 9/11 world, the word terrorist carries a specific connotation and weight, but that is how the government and media has classified those involved.
All of the volunteers living near the conflict have been temporarily relocated until the situation is deemed safe. (We have an excellent safety and security staff watching over us.) I was in Skopje over the weekend: Saturday to volunteer at the National Spelling Bee where three of my students were competing, and Sunday to run a half marathon, which was canceled as a safety precaution. Now home, my village is about an hour and a half south of Kumanovo, well away from danger.
Now, the facts:
Before dawn on Saturday, special forces police engaged with a heavily armed group in Kumanovo, a city about 25 miles northeast of Skopje. The armed group employed sniper fire, grenades, automatic weapons, and bombs, according to reports. Eight officers and 14 men from the “terrorist group” were killed. Nearly 40 other officers were injured, but no civilian fatalities have been reported. Many fled their homes over the weekend. The armed group had planned strategic attacks around Macedonia, according to some reports.
Read more here, though this account came out Sunday morning and some of the numbers are outdated.
There has been a lot of conjecture, sloppy reporting, and conspiracy theories swirling around the internet. (I guess that’s always true right? I’m still waiting for Neil Armstrong to prove that whole moon landing thing. Whatever.) Leading up to Saturday morning, there had been protests in the capital and some other larger cities. Protesters questions whether the government covered up the death of a 22-year-old man in 2011, at the hands of police. That alleged cover-up is the latest information revealed by a series of illegal wire taps, released by the opposition political party. Recently, some of those protests have become violent.
US Ambassadors released a joint statement with France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Union following a meeting with Macedonian leaders from several political parties. They reference the “disclosures,” asking the government to address the accusations, but ultimately calling for peace across the country.
As a Peace Corps volunteer, I have no political opinion and I won’t speculate about the why, but I will hope for peace too.
If you’re interested in reading more about the latest events, the conflict, and the protests, I’ve compiled a few links to media reports here: