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A mistrust of foreign media in Macedonia is helping to foment a simmering conflict between the central government and ethnic Albania rebels, with many in the Balkan nation believing the international press is biased in favor of the militants.

Opponents claim that the Albanian rebels hope to eventually establish an Albanian Islamic republic in the center of the Balkan peninsula.

Foreign news media see the conflict in black and white terms, favoring the rebels over the central government, according to the independent Macedonian news outlet “Reality Macedonia” in a recent news article posted on its website.

In the report, a Macedonian spokesman, Georgi Triantafilovski, pointed to a carefully constructed media plan developed by the militant Albanian fighters for maximum positive media exposure.

“Whenever our forces would engage them, the [Albanian] commanders would immediately pick up their mobile phones and call everyone, the BBC, CNN and all the others,” Triantafilovski stated.

Pictures would then flash across the world depicting heavily armed Macedonian government troops advancing on lightly armed rebels.

In 2001, during the height of the conflict thus far, media reports consistently avoided the term “terrorist” for the militant Albanians, used by the Macedonians, preferring to use the more sympathetic phrase “ethnic rebels,” the report stated.

The report also cited unidentified Macedonian government sources who claimed that a CNN camera crew operating in Skopje, the nation’s capital, deliberately falsified photographs.

When the CNN crew was in an Albanian section of Skopje, according to the report, curious children approached and peered at the visiting strangers through a fence. Pictures taken of the event, it is alleged, were then proffered as photos of young people in an “internment camp.”

The report, however, offers no specifics as to names of the individuals involved or the date of the incident.

The report cited another alleged incident in which the BBC depicted a Macedonian attack – but showed equipment not in the Macedonian arsenal.

According to Emil Atanasovski, a member of the National Democratic Forum, a group working for democratic reform in Macedonia, the BBC film footage showed a battle in which tanks were used that were of a type different from those used by the Macedonian military.

Many Macedonians share Atanasovki’s opinion that the Macedonian government was not able to subdue the rebels and came under international pressure to cooperate closely with its opponents “because we lost the media, even though we had all the arguments on our side to show otherwise.”

Regardless of how many of the allegations contained in the report from Reality Macedonia can be confirmed, the disappointment and mistrust expressed in Atanaslovki’s assessment is shared by other groups in the Balkans.

The distrust of foreign media and their reports has resulted in a general disbelief in virtually everything that is reported.

Radio Yugoslavia/Radio Liberty reports that a recent poll conducted in Serbia concluded that less than half of the population believes that the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, Bosnia, happened. Half of the Serbs polled could not name a single war crime allegedly committed by Serb forces operating in Croatia, Bosnia or Kosovo.

Former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic are considered two of the “greatest defenders of the Serb nation,” according to the poll, despite repeated allegations – especially in the foreign media – of their involvement in wartime atrocities.

Radio Yugoslavia/Radio Liberty quoted one of the legal experts at the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights for Serbia, Natasa Novakovic, as urging the Serb people to engage in an “active examination of the past.”

Novakovic’s call for a reconsideration of the past likely will be difficult to accomplish in the present atmosphere of media mistrust.

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