A call for media in the region to guarantee fair coverage of events in Macedonia is the latest in a series of calls for ethnic tensions in the former Yugoslav republic to be defused after the murder of a group of fishermen sparked conflict with Albanians.

The media should guarantee fair coverage of events, thus helping to defuse tensions between communities in Macedonia, said civil society representatives gathered at the EU-The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Civil Society Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) in Skopje on April 19, according to a statement by the European Parliament.

The body, which monitors the progress of the country towards the EU accession, has strongly condemned the interethnic violence and also urged the government to improve the economic and social situation of the Roma community.

In their recommendations, participants urged the media in the region to offer a fair and unbiased coverage of events in the country, thus enabling a better understanding and dialogue between different communities. They also insisted on the crucial role of education and called on the government to remove schoolbooks that reinforce ethnic stereotypes.

Albanian president Bamir Topi, meeting his Macedonian host, president Gjorge Ivanov, called for restraint in Macedonia after the murder of the five men fuelled ethnic tensions, Balkan Insight reported on April 20. The bodies of the five were found lined up with gunshot wounds near the Macedonian capital, Skopje, on April 13.

Media in Macedonia quoted interior minister Gordana Jankulovska as saying that ballistic and other evidence suggested that more than one killer was involved. Reportedly, police have confiscated security camera footage from locations in Skopje. Police, who have questioned more than 50 people, have opened a hotline for people to report tip-offs regarding the murders.

Topi started a two-day visit on April 19 to the neighbouring country at a time of heightened tension between Macedonians and country’s Albanian minority.

“Each nationalistic or ultra-nationalistic reflex or a climate of prejudice harms relations between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians in Macedonia as well as regional relations,” Topi said.

The killings have triggered violent clashes and sparked fears that tensions between the majority Macedonians and the Albanian minority could flare, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said.

Ivanov called on people to refrain from violence, as it was “in the interest of all to find the perpetrators of the murders.”

Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski, who on April met senior interior ministry officials responsible for the investigation, also has called for calm.

In an April 19 interview with Bulgarian news agency Focus, former Macedonian prime minister Vlado Buckovski said that until the investigation of the murder was complete, lending an ethnic aspect could only further complicate the situation, which was “already tense enough”.

“We should be patient when it comes to statements on the issue, especially the politicians,” Buckovski said.

“I think that the interethnic coexistence in Macedonia is at serious risk and I am afraid that there is a need to regain the trust very carefully – step by step. The trust is shaken and obviously there is some tension,” he said.

On April 19, the missions of the EU, Nato, OSCE and the United States issued a joint statement condemning the murder and expressing condolences to the victims’ families.

The joint statement expressed support for the efforts of the Macedonian government in carrying out the investigation.

“We understand that the authorities are investigating this crime and seeking the perpetrator, or perpetrators. We support the government’s efforts to pursue the investigation and legal procedures in the timeliest manner possible and encourage the cooperation of the public in gathering all available information on these killings,” the joint statement said.

The statement called on all citizens to remain calm, to refrain from speculation or unfounded allegations, and to show patience for the investigative process to take its course.

“When citizens engage in violence or attempt to take the law into their own hands, it only pulls the police away from the investigation and makes it more difficult to bring the murderers to justice”, reads the joint statement.

On April 16, more than 1000 people gathered to protest outside the building of the Macedonian government in Skopje, local news website Plus Info said.

The demonstrators threw stones at the government building, breaking three or four windows. The group headed to the building of the parliament and on their way destroyed two billboards and a patrol car. Police arrested 10 people, five of them minors.


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