4 May 2004
The Times of India
Indian migrant worker killed in Macedonian fake encounter
NEW DELHI: An unlucky Indian was in all probability among the seven illegal immigrants from South Asia who were shot dead by the Macedonian police two years ago in a fake encounter staged to impress the United States.
Last week, the authorities in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia came clean about the terrible incident which occurred outside the capital city of Skopje on March 4, 2002 and accused former interior minister Ljube Boskovski of personally masterminding the cold-blooded killing to demonstrate that his government was also in the frontline of the so-called international `war against terror'.
The seven were officially described at the time as "mujahideen" who had once fought in Bosnia and had entered Macedonia from Kosovo on a mission to attack the US embassy in Skopje.
In reality, they were illegal migrants who had sold land and property back home to find employment in Europe. Each had made his own way to Turkey and had then teamed up, presumably with the help of an agent in Istanbul, for the final journey westward.
They crossed Bulgaria and had barely entered Macedonia when the police who had been told to find an itinerant group that could be passed off as “jihadi terrorists” abducted and killed them.
But while six of the seven victims have been positively identified as Pakistani on the basis of documents found on their person, the identity of the seventh is unknown. Nevertheless, the authorities there are working on the assumption that he was from India.
"The seventh man was not carrying any papers at all", Mirjana Kontevska, spokesperson of the Macedonian interior ministry, told The Times of India on the telephone from Skopje.
"But a Pakistani diplomat from their embassy in Turkey, who identified the six Pakistanis, said the seventh was an Indian on the basis of some signs or aspects of his body".
Asked whether this was a reference to a tattoo or long hair or the absence of circumcision, Kontevska said she was not aware of the details. "But we are probing the matter very closely and we should have some more news very shortly".
The families of the six Pakistanis have announced that they will sue the Macedonian government for the wrongful killing of their relatives. Lawyers say they will seek as much as $15 million in compensation.
A Macedonian journalist familiar with the case said it was possible the police killed the seven on the presumption that the entire group was Pakistani. But when it turned out that one was an Indian and presumably not even a Muslim they decided to get rid of his papers lest the "mujahideen" theory fall apart.
Though Pakistan has been quick to condemn the Macedonian authorities for the illegal killing of six of its citizens, the Indian government has not yet taken a view. "We have received no information yet to suggest the seventh person was indeed an Indian", said an external affairs ministry official.
The official said it was extremely difficult to establish the identity of illegal immigrants at the best of times. "They almost always travel without documents, so that they can't be deported back home quickly if they are caught". The official also said it was unlikely that an Indian migrant would be moving around with a group of Pakistanis.
However, those familiar with the modus operandi of illegal immigration from South Asia say that identity papers are not usually destroyed until the individual is about to enter a Western (i.e. European Union) country. And that agents running the "underground railroad" out of Turkey or Bulgaria do often move Indians and Pakistanis together.
In John Le Carre's The Tailor of Panama , a seedy MI6 agent, Andrew Osnard, concocts a yarn about an impending uprising to impress his bosses. But the yarn sets in motion a chain of events that soon spins out of control. Something similar happened after the March 2002 fake encounter.
In December that year, unidentified terrorists bombed the offices of the honorary Macedonian consulate in Karachi, killing three. "We are al-Qaeda for Pakistan and we will kill the unbelievers as they kill us," the attackers wrote on the walls of the consulate an apparent reference to the killing of the seven so-called "mujahideen" in Macedonia a few months earlier.
The Pakistani authorities said last month the Macedonian consulate was bombed by terrorists from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen al-Alami.