By Rob Krott
Editor’s Note: US Peacekeepers deployed to Macedonia as part of Operation Essential Harvest following hostilities with Albanian separatists. Because the threat of renewed hostilities and the presence of Al Qaeda terrorists amongst Albanian insurgents holds open the possibility of the insertion of U.S. military ground forces to a renewed conflict, SAR presents this report from the frontlines and a review of the small arms currently fielded by the Macedonian Army and Albanian insurgents.
Rain plastered the t-shirt to my body. Even with the overcast sky and the drizzling rain it was hot in Tetovo. The Macedonian soldiers manning the roadblock and yelling at me made that obvious. Clad in civilian clothes, albeit with GI jungle boots, I didn’t present a military target and exited the battered Mercedes as nonchalantly as possible. My nervous driver begged me to leave my camera in the car.
About 25 miles west of Skopje and tucked into the rolling hills near the Kosovar border is Tetovo, one of the five largest cities in Macedonia and a northwestern town with a mainly ethnic-Albanian population. The political tensions between the Macedonian government and the country’s Albanian minority first erupted over the Albanian-language University of Tetovo. Established by ethnic Albanians in 1995 it was declared illegal and became a symbol of the ethnic strife, resulting in violent clashed between police and demonstrators.
In the spring of 2001 minor ethnic clashes and street demonstrations grew into a full-scale guerrilla war. For most of the summer the conflict escalated after the initial hostilities and was soon a full-blown counter-insurgency in northern Macedonia. According to friends in Macedonia the Volci (Wolves), a special operations unit, similar to the Police Tigers, with experience in counter-terrorist operations were very busy. Only used in urban situations they are a DELTA type unit composed of professional soldiers electing a ten-year service contract. It was suggested I might like to tour Macedonia in wartime.
When I arrived on a flight from Sofia, Macedonian police in camouflage uniforms and combat body armor were dispersed on the runway awaiting our disembarkation. I guess this very visible, yet meaningless, heightened security was in case some well-known Albanian terrorist decided to alight from the airliner. An improbable situation I thought at the time but in light of 9/11, definitely possible. Two teenaged boys seated behind me looked out the window and exclaimed “Hey, that’s a Kalashnikov!” Their mother didn’t look as thrilled. Heavily armed national police manned several checkpoints and sandbagged positions along the drive into Skopje. On the way to my hotel I heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter turbine and looked out the window to see a Macedonian Army HIND-D attack helicopter skimming the rooftops. I would see several helicopters and fast movers over the city in the next few days. From my vantage point, a hotel on a hill in the city’s outskirts, I watched them fly through the valley on their way to the fighting near Tetovo. I learned from the Ministry of Defense that there were a total of seventeen helicopters in action including Mi-17, Mi-8, and Mi-24 HINDs for transport, recon, and combat missions. There were four Sukhoi-25 attack aircraft committed to the fighting. The situation in Skopje when I arrived was tense as a police counter-terrorist operation the day before was the talk of the town. The police killed five Albanian “terrorists” in a firefight in a Skopje apartment. However, an Albanian language newspaper said that an Albanian woman claimed she was awakened in the middle of the night when the police/military raid team hit the house and killed five male “visitors.” I guess one man’s “terrorist” is another man’s, er, “visitor.” She claimed the five men (who she of course did not know) were not Albanian terrorists. I wondered how these completely innocent men came to be in possession of a large arms cache. The raid made the front page of the Macedonian papers and in a photo of the contraband captured in the raid I counted at least six assault rifles, one scoped folding stock assault rifle, several loaded magazines, camouflage uniforms, and a large pile of ammo bandoliers for the South African Armscorp 40mm grenade launcher. There were loose rounds displayed on top of the pile. There were two of the distinctive revolver-action, six-cylinder, folding-stock, optically sighted grenade launchers lying nearby. Just what every visitor keeps in his overnight bag. Another successful operation had just occurred as I left the airport: an Albanian convoy was shot up and several Albanian “terrorists” were killed.
Macedonia’s foes were supposedly homegrown ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (NLA). Roughly a third of Macedonia’s population of 2 million is Albanian. In many areas of the northwestern Macedonia, where the Albanians are concentrated, Albanian paramilitary groups were formed and trained in 2000 by veterans of the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) or in Albanian: Ushtria Clirimtare E Kosoves (UCK). The organization was modeled on the KLA. Many of the younger recruits also had regular army training from service as Macedonian Army conscripts. I soon learned that most of the Albanian fighters were actually KLA/UCK. Weeks later when the Albanians turned in their weapons many were seen wearing UCK emblems on their uniforms and caps. The KLA’s spokesmen have stated its mission, the formation of a “Greater Albania,” only too succinctly: “Our job is to liberate the whole of Kosovo, as well as the Albanians in Macedonia and Montenegro.”
“Is Cease-fire, No problem!”
That Saturday the fighting around Radusa, a border village, flared up, with Macedonian positions receiving 82mm mortar fire from the Kosovo side of the border. Despite the peace negotiations, on Sunday approximately 1,000 NLA insurgents with vehicles massed on the border for an offensive south. That was the reason for all the fast-mover and helicopter activity. Heavy fighting continued throughout the region and NLA units engaged police posts near Albanian strongholds in Slupcane and Orizare with mortar and machine gun fire. And, of course, the temperature dropped to the high 60s with intermittent rain. If the weather worsened it might eventually affect air ops. All in all I thought it a perfect situation for a visit to the front lines.
As I negotiated for a ride to the front my taxi driver nodded his okay with our arrangement while another cabbie chimed in, “Is cease-fire, no problem!” I threw my bag in the car. The knapsack held extra film, a backup camera, a rain jacket, an MRE, a bottle of water, and first aid supplies (as a minimum I always carry G.I. pressure bandages, tape, and 4x4 gauze sponges in a war zone). I had a switchblade in the top of my boot, a camera around my neck, a notebook in my back pocket, and a Snickers bar. I was ready.
We headed west on the Skopje-Tetovo road. My plan was to get as close as possible. If I was stopped by the military or police I would try to cajole my way further up the line. I was able to observe some units in the rear and others moving up. When I climbed out of the cab at the checkpoint (about 20 troops backed up by a Henschel TM-170 armored car, aka “Hermelin”) I could hear the rattle-rattle of automatic weapons fire. So much for the ceasefire. The last act of defiance from the Albanians, or was it the Macedonian army playing catch up? Before I’d taken two steps soldiers were yelling at me in Macedonian. I yelled back “Novinar, novinar” (journalist) while keeping a stupid grin plastered on my face. I held my camera out to my side. From the actions of the soldiers I expected getting slammed into the pavement and having an AK muzzle screwed into my ear. An officer rushed over and started yelling at the taxi driver who suddenly forgot he spoke English when I asked him to interpret for me. A mortar round exploded just beyond the troop position and we all flinched. My press identification and clearance from the Macedonian Ministry of Information were brushed aside. It was a one-sided “no-no-yes” conversation. No, I wasn’t going any farther. No, I wasn’t going to take any photos. Yes, I was going to get my ass back in the cab and go back to Skopje. So much for seeing the Macedonian Army in action. Unable to actually join an infantry unit in combat, my experience with the Macedonian Army and its armaments therefore is from observation of units moving to the front, conversations with artillerymen and rear area support troops, and information garnered from Macedonian Defense Ministry briefers.
The Macedonian Army
The JNA (Jugoslav People’s Army - Jugoslavenska Narodna Armija) became the JV (Jugoslavenska Vojnika - Jugoslav Army) on 19 May 1992. The Macedonian Armed Forces (Armija na Republika Makedonija - ARM) was created in 1992, a year after Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia. Conscription started when the first intake reported for training at Skopje, Bitola, Stip, and Ohrid barracks on 14 April 1992. Under an agreement with Belgrade, all materiel belonging to the JV was taken to Serbia. The JV retrieved 350 armored vehicles (tanks, APCs, and tank transporters), 400 artillery pieces (multiple rocket launcher systems, howitzers, and cannons), 35 fighter and training aircraft, 5 helicopters, 410 different air defense weapons, 284 air defense rocket systems, 1,692 ground to air rockets, radars from Bitola, Valandovo and Delchevo, three motor patrol boats and 109,100 infantry weapons. Macedonia was left with only the weapons and equipment of the Macedonian Territorial Defenses.
Macedonia, strapped for funds, has been struggling to re-arm its forces since then. It has also reorganized its forces using NATO know-how provided since it became a member of the alliance’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, designed to build ties with former communist forces. Through the PfP program the 11th Stip Motorized Brigade “the Scorpions” has participated in five multinational exercises including “Co-Operative Nugget ’97” at Fort Polk, LA, “Best Co-operative Effort ’97” and “Esperia ’97” in Italy. Other units participated in “Peaceful Eagle ’96” in Albania and U.S. Special Forces participated with Macedonian units in “Winter ’96” in Macedonia.
The Macedonian Army has an estimated 15,000-20,000 ground troops (about 1% of the population), although, in reality, it can only muster around 10,000 combat troops. A general mobilization could swell its ranks to 120,000. By 1996 fully 35% of the army were “professional” or volunteer soldiers. Conscripts serve nine months. Draftees may also elect to serve in non-combatant roles as conscientious objectors. Most soldiers involved in the fighting during the summer of 2001 were professionals or reservists. The call up of reservists to fight the NLA/KLA seasoned some soldiers, expanded the ranks, and improved the quality of the fledgling army.
In the Albanian crisis the government considered some of its Army units unreliable, as they contained large numbers on ethnic Albanians. This is why early on in the conflict it had tried to use only police units as they contained a higher percentage on Slav Macedonians.
Arming the ARM
During the Balkans War the United Nations Security Council placed an embargo for import and export of arms for all former Yugoslav republics. This slowed down the process of equipping the ARM. The subsequent exclusion of Macedonia from the arms embargo in 1996 allowed Macedonia to equip its military, but it had to decide whether to purchase military equipment from East-European or Western countries. Buying from NATO offered many advantages including quicker integration into NATO. The only problem was the price - although ARM received donations and favorable arrangements from NATO member-states and other friendly nations - it couldn’t afford to equip with solely NATO weaponry.
Eastern European weapons systems were favored. The Macedonian general officers, formerly Yugoslav People’s Army officers, were most familiar with former Warsaw Pact military equipment. It was also cheap and readily available via the international arms market and from nearby Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav government (now Serb government) munitions company, Zavodi Crvena Zastava (Red Banner - ZCZ), and commonly known as Zastava, has a well known plant at Kragujevac and has produced a number of military weapons (many based on Soviet designs) as well as sporting arms and para-military weapons for export only. Most of the weaponry was older generation models but was better than nothing. Macedonia depended a great deal on Yugoslavia and Bulgaria for arms.
The army was totally unprepared for war with the Albanian separatists: it had 93 tanks operational - Bulgarian (the Bulgarian government made a gift of 150 tanks to the Macedonian Prime Minister during his first visit to Bulgaria in the winter of 1999) and other Warsaw Pact models; 112 howitzers; 40 M-48 light artillery pieces; and several thousand grenade launchers. Croatia quickly shipped Oganj rocket launchers to the Macedonian front. In June 2001 Macedonia purchased two K-52 Alligator helicopters, another four Mi-24 helicopters, six U.S. Huey medevac helicopters, and four Su-25 aircraft.
Today ARM has over 300 armored vehicles: about 120 tanks (T-55 and T-72), 11 Infantry BMP-2 fighting vehicles, over 200 armored troop transporters: TM-170 Hermelin, BTR-70, BTR-80, M-113, and Leonidas. Macedonian artillery includes multi-barrel rocket launcher systems BM-21 Grad (122mm) and M-63 Plamen (128mm), 108 D-30 howitzers (122mm), 36 M101A1 howitzers (105mm), and B-1 “mountain howitzers” (76mm), M-60 recoilless rifles (82mm) and 60mm, 82mm, and 120mm mortars. Much of this equipment came from Ukraine. The most numerous tank in service with the ARM is the Soviet-made T-55. In the future ARM may acquire modern T-84 tanks and new systems and armored personnel carriers.
Macedonia’s Air Force is limited to four Su-25 fighters, three Zlin-242L trainers, twelve Mi-24V/K “Hind” attack helicopters, four Mi-8MT combat-transport helicopters, three Mi-17 transport helicopters, and two multi-purpose UH-1H “Huey” helicopters. The air defense units are equipped with mobile air defense systems Strela-10M (Arrow-10M), Igla-1 and Strela-2M air defense systems, and 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft cannons.
Infantry Small Arms
Standard issue pistols were initially Jugoslav M57 Tokarevs in 7.62x25mm, the Model 70 and 70A Tokarevs chambered for 9x19mm Parabellum (designed with the export market in mind) and Zastava Model 83 .357 Magnum revolvers. The Model 57 is nearly identical to the Tokarev TT-33 except its magazine can hold an extra round, nine instead of eight. Soviet and Chinese magazines are not interchangeable with the M57 as the magazines are too short and the magazine feed lips do not reach the chamber. The M83 .357 Magnum is a double-action revolver with a variety of barrel lengths that will also fire .38 Special ammunition and can be adapted via a special cylinder to fire 9mm Parabellum ammunition. Also in service, though most commonly as a police sidearm, is the Model 70 7,65mm pistol. An eight shot “pocket pistol” it is a single-action only, blowback semiautomatic pistol. It can also be found as the M70(k) chambered for the .380 caliber / 9mm Kurz cartridge. Some officers may be armed with Czech pistols including the CZ75 and the CZ83. Macedonian special operations units may use a variety of US and European pistols.
ZCZ has also manufactured the Czech vz61 “Skorpion” under license as the Model 84 chambered for .32 ACP. ZCZ also produced a conversion of the M80 assault rifle similar to the AKSU74 or Krinkov design for special operations troops and armored vehicle and helicopter crews. The Zastava M85 submachine gun / assault rifle hybrid is only 22.4 inches in length with its bottom folding metal stock folded. Chambered for the 5.56x45mm NATO round it will accept either 20- or 30-round magazines.
Before World War II Yugoslavia imported Turkish Mausers and Austrian Mannlichers, later converted to 7.92x57mm Mauser. The Czech 7.92x57mm Model 24 was also imported and then manufactured in Yugoslavia. After the war Yugoslavia manufactured a copy of the German KAR 98k 7.92mm Mauser as the Model 1948 that combined features of the M24. All Yugoslav Mausers have “intermediate”-size actions. While obsolete, these dependable 5-round bolt actions are yet in use by auxiliary police, civilians, and paramilitaries in Macedonia.
The first modern post-war military rifle produced in Yugoslavia was the M59 rifle, a variant of the Soviet SKS carbine. A variant of the M59 is the M59/66A1. Manufactured by Zastava it differs from the SKS / M59 design only by the addition of a muzzle mounted spigot grenade launcher which increases the barrel length to 24.39 inches (620mm). As on the SKS, the M59 series incorporates a folding blade bayonet. The increased length of the barrel with its grenade launcher reduces the protruding length, and therefore utility, of the bayonet. A folding ladder sight is mounted at the rifle foresight. Large numbers of these weapons are still in use and are frequently carried by second line troops of the Macedonian army. I observed Macedonian artillerymen carrying these rifles.
The current standard issue assault rifle is the M70B1 and its folding stock version, M70AB2 that is nearly identical to the Soviet 7.62x39mm AKM. They replaced the Model 64 assault rifle that used a 20-round magazine and featured a bolt stop. Like the M59/66A1 both rifles are equipped with a 22mm grenade-launcher screwed on to the muzzle. There is also a detachable muzzle brake/compensator. The ladder sight is connected to the end of the gas cylinder and the gas regulator, laying flat on the gas cylinder when folded down. When lifted to the vertical for use with the grenade launcher it blocks the gas cylinder, directing all gases to the muzzle for launching the grenade. Later models have replaced the wood furniture with black nylon/plastic hand guards, pistol grips, and stocks.
While the assault rifles are all chambered for the Soviet M43 7.62x39mm cartridge, Yugoslavia’s M76 sniper rifle (Poluautomatska Snajerska Puska) is chambered for the 7.92x57mm round. The design is similar to the Kalashnikov series: it uses the same basic firing mechanism, action, receiver, and gas cylinder design. The M76 is larger with an empty weight of 9.26 pounds (4.20kg) compared to the 8.15 pounds (3.7kg) of the M70 rifles. It loads from a 10-round detachable box magazine. A telescopic sight, the ON M76 (Opticki nisan) similar in design to the Soviet PSO-1 is mounted on the receiver and the M76 can also mount a passive night sight (Pasivni nisan), the PN 5x80, similar to the U.S. Army PVS-4 in appearance. The Black Arrow, a 12.7mm M93 anti-materiel rifle is also in use.
Following World War II, Tito’s forces were equipped with thousands of MG42 machineguns captured from the Germans. The Yugoslavs promptly copied the Mauser-Werke AG design and manufactured it as the M53. Chambered for the original 7.92x57mm cartridge, it continues to see service as a GPMG workhorse just as it was for the Wehrmacht. Large numbers were used by all combatants in the Balkan Wars 1991-1996. The M53 was largely supplanted in 1985 with the M84, Yugoslavia’s version of the Soviet PKM. A true GPMG, it is chambered for the 7.62x54R cartridge. In this design Kalashnikov mimics his AK operating system in the PK (the PKM is an improved, lightened version) and he literally turned it upside down and added an innovative feed mechanism. It incorporates Kalashnikov’s rotating bolt, the Czech Vz52 belt drive, Goryunov’s quick-change barrel and cartridge feed mechanism, and the DP trigger. Zastava copied the design but minor modifications added about two pounds to the original design, topping the weapon out at 22 pounds.
The Yugoslavs previously used the Model 64A and the Model 64B light machineguns (7.62x39mm), essentially Yugoslav M64 assault rifles with heavy finned barrels and light bipods. These were both supplanted by M72 Mitrajez squad automatic weapons like the M64, a Jugoslav variant of the Soviet RPK. The M72B1 has a fixed wood stock while the M72AB1 has an under-folding metal stock. Both weapons use the standard 30-round Kalashnikov magazine as well as a 75-round drum magazine.
Editor’s Note: CPT Rob Krott, USAR, has extensive experience with Balkan military forces. He joined the Croatian Army (HV) as a Commando officer in early 1992, and was awarded a Zahvalnica (commendation) form the Defense Minister and the Spomenicom Domovinskog Rata (Homeland War Commendation) Medal personally presented by the Prime Minister. In 1993 he was assigned as the training officer (S-3) for a Croat-Bosnia Defense Force (HVO) infantry brigade where he also led a special reconnaissance unit of “international volunteers.” In 1994 he visited his former enemies in Belgrade and Nis and maintains contact with several 63d Parachute Brigade (63 Padobranska Brigade) officers.
A NATO-brokered peace agreement was signed on 13 August 2001 a few hours after Krott’s meeting at the Ministry of Defense. NATO’s Operation Essential Harvest deployed 3,500 troops from 13 countries (including about 2,000 British troops from the 16th Air Assault Brigade, 2nd Parachute Regiment, and a Ghurkha Company) in Task Force Harvest. The lead elements arrived on 17 August. On the mission start date, 26 August, Ian Collins, 20, of 9 Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers was killed when a concrete block was dropped on his vehicle from a highway overpass near Skopje. Anti-west sentiment continued: a Macedonian military vehicle was seen driving around Skopje with “NATO killers” painted on it and a British TV journalist was beaten by a mob. The US already had 500-700 troops stationed at Camp Able Sentry at Petrovec airport whose main role was to support the US KFOR contingent, Task Force Falcon, in Kosovo. The US also had a wide range of assets stationed at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. Some 200 troops, mostly from the 101st Airborne and military intelligence units, from Camp Able Sentry were detailed to TF Harvest.
During its 30-day mandate TF Harvest collected over 4,000 weapons, mostly Kalashnikovs, but also heavy machineguns, mortars, landmines, rocket launchers, and armored vehicles. Operations Essential Harvest was declared a success and terminated on 26 September 2001. Macedonia’s Prime Minister, Ljubco Georgievski, called the collection of 4,000 weapons “ridiculous and humiliating” claiming the NLA had boasted of an arsenal of over 60,000 weapons. On 28 September 2001 the NLA officially disbanded. Both belligerents requested that NATO peacekeepers remain in northwest Macedonia. Whether the Albanians have abandoned the establishment of a Greater Albania is open to conjecture.
The European Union finally took over peacekeeping duties in Macedonia from the NATO forces in March 2003. Prior to the change-over two Polish soldiers died on 4 March when a mine exploded under a patrol vehicle. The Honker vehicle driven by the Polish patrol of three soldiers and an interpreter hit a mine. Although there was speculation about a spring offensive by Albanian guerrillas, in reality there was scant support within the Albanian community for a renewal of the conflict. While there may be sporadic incidents a major offensive is not expected in the summer of 2003. Increasing unrest, demonstrations and shootings led many to believe that a resumption of hostilities was imminent. The chief threat was a somewhat mysterious group, the Albanian National Army (ANA), which has claimed responsibility for a number of recent terrorist attacks. The ANA, which opposes the Ohrid Peace Agreement in favor of a Greater Albania, threatened a full-scale offensive in the spring of 2003 that did not come to pass.
History of Macedonian Army
The attack on the Bulgarian police in Prilep on 11 October 1941 marked the beginning of the organized anti-fascist resistance of the Macedonian nation and paved the way to formation of the Macedonian armed forces. In March 1943, the main Headquarters of the People’s Liberation Partisan Corps of Macedonian was reorganized and renamed as the Headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army and of the Partisan Forces of Macedonia. The first unit of the National Liberation Army was a battalion “Mirche Acev,” (named after a hero of the resistance) formed on 18 August 1943. That day is considered the foundling day of organized Macedonian Army and it is celebrated as the Day of Army of Republic of Macedonia (ARM).
Organization and Equipment of the UCK/KLA/NLA
During the fighting in 2001 rumors were rife that the United States was playing both sides in the conflict, supporting both Macedonian and the Kosovo Liberation Army KLA/UCK and therefore the National Liberation Army (NLA). In truth many of the Albanians referred to as NLA guerrillas - inferring that they were all Albanian - Macedonians fighting for their rights - were actually KLA/UCK veterans and/or Kosovars trained by NATO as part of the Kosovo Protection Corps, fighting for the establishment of a Greater Albania. Western military observers found them too organized and well equipped to be a rag-tag group of freedom fighters in existence for a few months. The red and black emblems of the Albanian double-headed eagle with “UCK” emblazoned above it were seen on many uniforms, caps, and t-shirts and painted on equipment. NATO/KFOP officials admitted that some 20% might be from Kosovo.
The KLA/UCK first appeared in Macedonia in 1992. In 1995 the beginnings of armed resistance to the Serbs appeared, when the KLA carried out isolated attacks on Serb police. The KLA’s first public act was a series of bombings of police stations in Kosovo and Metohija in June 1996. Serb authorities quickly named it a terrorist organization.
The KLA is not a unified military organization subordinated to the political party of civil authority. It’s a lightly armed guerrilla movement whose members carry visible insignia and function as a disciplined military force organized in small, compartmentalized cells rather than a single large rebel movement. The KLA had a hardcorps of a few hundred trained commandos with the much larger remained locally organized in active cells throughout the region. The KLA typically performed actions in smaller groups, at times as few as three to five men. KLA strength swelled from about 500 active members at the beginning of1998 to a force of at least a few thousand men (though some estimates suggest that there were/are as many as 12,000 armed guerrillas).
Some KLA units are professionally trained as many were former Yugoslav army soldiers. The KLA functions very professionally underground, probably because some of its leaders are former members of UDBA (Yugoslavia’s Secret Police), the army, and the police. An Austrian radio reporter interviewed NLA fighters in Tetovo: one a local of Albanian descent and others who spoke Serbo-Croat but were Albanians with combat experience in Bosnia, Kosovo, and southern Serbia. During the war in the former Yugoslavia, it is established that over 5,000 ethnic Albanians fought in Croat and Muslin units. Two interviewees claimed the United States and other NATO countries trained them.
Serbia claimed the KLA employed about 1,000 foreign mercenaries from Albania, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Muslims) and Croatia as well as German and British instructors. In Macedonia the NLA confirmed that in the Kumanovo region twelve British nationals, at least two Dutch volunteers, and a German were serving in NLA units. The “volunteers” were not of Albanian descent but were believed to have fought in some of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, including Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. The British contingent was based around the village of Slupcane. Senior Macedonian officials said they were aware that the NLA also included Europeans who were former KLA volunteers: “We know they are there but they are not significant - little more than drug addicts.” Most of the “mercenaries” in the NLA/KLA were Albanian nationals, especially former Albanian army officers, policemen and members of the state security forces.
Their equipment made its way into Macedonia from Kosovo, Albania, and also from southern Serbia, as these mountainous borders are porous for local smugglers. Until March 2998 the KLA used only light arms such as sporting rifles, old Yugoslav Army machine guns, SKS carbines, brand-new black market Zastava pistols, and an eclectic collection of obsolete, but functional World War II weaponry: Soviet PPSh41 and German MP40 submachine-guns and Mosin-Nagant 7.62x54R carbines. I saw several “PPSh41 submachine guns” in Macedonia captured from the Albanians. The Soviet PPSh41 was modified by the Yugoslavs in 1949 and manufactured as the Model 49. Instead of the typical 71-round drum magazine it incorporated a 35-round detachable box magazine. The Yugoslav M49 also exhibits better finishing and machining than the World-War-II-era Soviet PPSh41. An improved buffer was added and an improved bolt and spring adapted from the Beretta M38A. The Model 49 was replaced by an MP40 type design, the Model 56. Like the M49 it fires the 7.62x25mm Soviet pistol cartridge. It uses as 32-round curved magazine that is nearly identical to the PPS43 magazine. The Yugo M56 (see SAR, vol.2, no.7 April 99) is a combination of World War II Soviet and German design features. A 9mm version, the M65, was also manufactured. Both weapons are select-fire, open-bolt designs - uninspired but serviceable. Strangely, they both have a bayonet lug. The only conceivable use I can imagine for such a feature is for military policemen who may be guarding prisoners.
But more recently ethnic-Albanian forces have been armed with Chinese-made Kalashnikovs (stolen from Albanian Army stocks), RPG7s, German anti-tank rocket launchers, light machineguns (RPDs and RPKs) mortars, recoilless rifles, Serb “Black Arrow” 12.7mm sniper rifles, and anti-aircraft machine guns (DShK 12.7mm type), as well as other weapons produced in China and Singapore. The KLA also captured weapons from Serb army and special police (MUP) units and continued to acquire weapons from the European black market, with the odd Italian M4 Spectre 9mm submachine-gun or American made .50 caliber sniper rifle turning up in KLA/NLA hands. The Macedonian Army also captured SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles and .50 caliber sniper rifles from the NLA.
Infantry Weapons Produced in Serbia
Zastava Arms, Belgrade
* 12.7x107mm NSV heavy machine gun
* 5.45x39mm AKS-74U short assault rifle
Zastava Arms, Beograd
* 7.62x39mm AKM assault rifle
* MAB P15S 9mm pistol (French design, manufactured by Zastava)
* Zastava .357 Magnum Model 1983 revolver
* Zastava 7.62x25mm Model M57 and 9x19mm Model M70 and M70A pistols
* Zastava 7.65mm (.32 ACP) Model M70 and 9mm Kurz Model M70(k) pistols
* Zastava 9x19mm M88 and M88A pistols
* Zastava 7.65mm (.32 ACP) Model 84 machine pistol
* Zastava 7.62x25mm M56 sub-machine gun
* Zastava 5.56x45mm M82 and M82A light machine guns
* Zastava 7.62x39mm M59/66A1 rifle
* Zastava 7.62x39mm M70B1 and M70AB2 assault rifles
* Zastava 7.62x39mm M72B1 and M72AB1 light machine guns
* Zastava 7.62x51mm M77B1 light machine gun
* Zastava 7.62x54R M84 general purpose machine gun
*Zastava 7.92x57mm M53 general purpose machine gun
* Zastava 7.92x57mm M76 semiautomatic sniper rifle
Zavodi Crvena Zastava
* Zastava M1955 20mm cannon
* Zastava M86 30mm automatic cannon
*Zastava M89 cannon
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