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Battle of Tetovo
Part of the Macedonian War
Date 16 March – 13 August 2001
Location Tetovo, Republic of Macedonia
Result Ohrid Agreement
Flag of North Macedonia.svg Macedonia
Uck Nla logo National Liberation Army
Commanders and leaders
Republic of Macedonia Boris Trajkovski Uck Nla logo Ali Ahmeti
Republic of Macedonia 10,000+

NATO 4,800 [1]

Uck Nla logo 5.000+ Insurgents [2]
Casualties and losses
Republic of Macedonia 31 killed[3] Uck Nla logo Unknown[4]

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.[5][6][7] Of the original population of 53,000, 55% were ethnic Albanians.[8] In the aftermath of the Kosovo War, tensions between Macedonians and Albanians began to rise. 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 phaseEdit

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 Mount Baltepe. The NLA proceeded to engage with sniper fire and mortar attacks. The first bystander to be killed was an Albanian man, shot through the forehead as he got out of his car. 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 II tanks from Prizren, in Kosovo, in order to protect the base.[9][10] Half of the 1,200 German troops were evacuated to another location eight kilometers away.[11] By 20 March, another 400 KFOR German combat troops equipped with Marder armoured vehicles[11] and more Leopard II tanks had been deployed in Tetovo.[12] 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.

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.

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.[5] 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.[5] 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.[5] 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.[5]

Second phaseEdit

On the 24th, the Macedonians used ex-Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopters for the first time in the conflict, responding to Albanian mortar fire that wounded twenty civilians in the Koltuk area. With the addition of these new helicopters, 300 Macedonian infantry launched a massive offensive around Mount Šar. As rockets and artillery pounded Albanian positions on Mount Sar Planina southwest of the city, airborne troops were dropped on the slopes. The Mi-24's strafed what remained after the initial barrage. The situation began to dwindle for the NLA, as they chose to fire indiscriminately back into the city.

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. In the Drenovac district, rebels and government forces fought heavily for the town’s sports stadium. The fall of the stadium left the rebels within fifty yards of the city center. Residents of the areas were instructed to leave their homes by Macedonian forces.[13]

A twelve-year-old girl was killed in a mortar blast. Thirteen civilians and five government soldiers were injured. Macedonian government forces also shelled villages surrounding Tetovo, which were under control of Albanian rebels.[13]

Final phaseEdit

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. Ten Macedonian soldiers were killed when Albanian rebels ambushed a convoy on a road leading from Tetovo to Skopje. The gun battle was carried out in the supposed retaliation for the deaths of five ethnic Albanians. Macedonian residents protested overnight the deaths of the soldiers, looting ethnic Albanian shops in the process. The next day, Macedonians retaliated with the pounding of Albanian positions with artillery.

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 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.

End gameEdit

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. During the week of 24 August, violence sprouted between resistance fighters and Macedonian police in villages and police checkpoints.

Locals reported receiving phone calls and threats of violence on both sides. But Macedonians felt the biggest brunt of this sort of tactic, due to the population density in the city.

On 12 November, three Macedonian police officers were ambushed and killed in the village of Trebos.[14]

The NLA suffered many casualties, but no concrete number is known.

See alsoEdit


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


  1. Issues: The 2001 Conflict
  2. Tetovo: Mazedonische Truppen gehen in die Offensive - Spiegel Online - Nachrichten - Politik. (25 March 2001). Retrieved on 2010-10-19.
  3. Mazedonien - auf dem Weg zu einer eigenen Nation. Retrieved on 2010-10-19.
  4. Kriegsgefahr: Ausgangssperre über Tetovo verhängt - Spiegel Online - Nachrichten - Politik. (18 March 2001). Retrieved on 2010-10-19.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "Macedonian tanks shell Tetovo guerrillas". New Zealand Herald. 11:32 AM Wednesday 21 Mar 2001. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  6. "Battle tanks move into Tetovo". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 20 Mar 2001.,6851997&dq=tetovo&hl=en. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  7. "Rebels retreat, still tension in Tetovo". Kingman Daily Miner. 21 Mar 2001.,6374624&dq=tetovo&hl=en. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  8. 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. 
  9. "Germany send tanks into Macedonia" by Anton La Guardia and Hannah Cleaver Daily Telegraph
  10. Phillips, John (2004) Macedonia: Warlords and Rebels in the Balkans. I.B.Tauris, p. 92. ISBN 186064841X
  11. 11.0 11.1 Deutscher Generalinspekteur Kujat warnt Angreifer in Mazedonien 17 March 2001 (German)
  12. Nato raises Macedonian profile BBC news, 20 March 2001
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Macedonia issues rebel ultimatum", CNN (24 July 2001).
  14. "Macedonia police killed in ambush", BBC News (12 November 2001).

External linksEdit

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