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A Macedonian army helicopter flies over Petrovec airport near the capital Skopje, June 12, 2001, with the rebel occupied village Aracinovo in the background. Ethnic Albanian rebels from Aracinovo on Sunday threatened to attack strategic targets near the capital, including the airport. (MACEDONIA OUT) REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
Macedonia army chief resigns.
The commander of the Macedonian army, General Jovan Andrevski, has resigned.
Quoting army spokesman Colonel Blagoja Markovski, the AFP news agency said General Andrevski had said he was stepping down because of the low morale affecting his troops.
President Boris Trajkovski had accepted his resignation, Markovski said. A new chief of staff, General Jovan Petkovski, has been named as his replacement.
More than 26 Macedonian soldiers have been killed in clashes with ethnic Albanian rebels fighting mainly in northern Macedonia.
The army declared a ceasefire on Monday, hours after the rebels threatened to attack the capital Skopje if the government forces continued shelling their positions.
The Macedonian Government, which includes ethnic Albanian representatives, has accepted President Boris Trajkovski's peace plan to end the four month-old conflict. Among others, the plan envisages an amnesty for the rebels.
ROBERTSON: I URGE EXTREMISTS TO END FIGHTING AND LEAVE THE OCCUPIED VILLAGES.
"I strongly condemn the latest actions by extremist groups in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and denounce their threats of further attacks. The escalation of violence cannot bring a positive outcome. I urge extremists to end their fighting, leave the villages they are occupying and cease the intimidation of innocent civilians," NATO Secretary General George Robertson stated Tuesday concerning the developments in the Republic of Macedonia stressing that violence does not serve justice, nor does it contribute to the establishment of a better and fairer society.
"President Trajkovski and I talked today and I welcomed his intention to move forward on a comprehensive proposal for ending the crisis. NATO sent a team of experts to Skopje earlier today to provide assistance to the authorities in developing their plans and proposals."
"NATO's strong efforts to control movements by extremists across the border with Kosovo continue to have an effect, as clearly shown this weekend with the arrest of 12 extremists by KFOR," Robertson said.
"I encourage all political forces in the country to work with President Trajkovski and support the necessary political efforts to end the crisis," NATO Secretary General said.
Macedonian government adopts peace plan.
SKOPJE, June 12 (AFP) -
Macedonia's multi-ethnic government on Tuesday adopted a peace plan proposed by President Boris Trajkovski, which provides for an amnesty for the rebels and NATO support in disarming them, Defence Minister Vlado Buckovski said.
"The government today adopted the plan of President Trajkovski and decided to be involved in its implementation," Buckovski said.
He said a civil committee of cabinet ministers and defence experts would be set up to tackle the crisis, and that it would oversee a new anti-terrorist force of special police and elite troops.
Macedonia ceasefire up in the air after ambush.
SKOPJE, June 12 (AFP) -
A ceasefire between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels was up in the air again Tuesday after police accused the guerrillas of an ambush that left six police officers wounded.
Residents of Skopje worried that the rebels could put into action a threat to lob mortar rounds on to the capital.
The ambush late Monday near the flashpoint northwestern town of Tetovo came just seven hours after the self-proclaimed National Liberation Armyresponded to a halt in army shelling in the north with its own 24-hour ceasefire, valid until 1200 GMT Tuesday.
Macedonian national television said six police officers were wounded in the attack, but their lives were not in danger.
The NLA had promised not to fire unless it was attacked first, but police in Tetovo said the rebels had ambushed officers shipping supplies up to a position on the border with the UN-run Yugoslav province of Kosovo.
The Macedonian government announced earlier it was halting its shelling of rebel villages north of Skopje to allow a humanitarian mission into the area, where around 10,000 civilians are pinned down by army artillery.
National security advisor Nikola Dimitrov denied the ceasefire was in response to a rebel threat to bombard the capital from a suburb the guerrillas seized last week.
The NLA, which says its is fighting for Albanian rights but whose armed campaign had led to thousands of refugees leaving their homes, responded by declaring its own truce.
Security forces had resumed their intense bombardment early Monday despite a warning from rebel leader Commander Hoxha that he would attack Skopje from his base in the suburbs if his demands were not met.
But in a sudden change of tactics, Dimitrov said the army would halt its shelling of northern villages for an unspecified period to allow an international humanitarian mission to enter rebel-held areas.
He said the main priority would be to inspect rebel-controlled reservoirs supplying water to the city of Kumanovo, whose 100,000 residents have been without running water for six days.
The convoy also took supplies for civilians caught under fire for more than a month and evacuated 46 of them, a Macedonian official said.
Security forces have surrounded the Skopje suburb of Aracinovo but have made no move on the NLA fighters on the edge of the capital.
But Dimitrov said the threat to Skopje, which would almost certainly inflict civilian casualties, was "a last resort and means the NLA are exposing their weakness."
"Whatever happens, we will never negotiate with the NLA," Dimitrov said.
Skopje was was calm but tense Monday as Swiss Air, Yugoslav Airlines and Greece's Olympic Airlines cancelled flights to Skopje. British Airways also stopped a scheduled flight.
The US embassy had asked a handful of non-essential contractors working for it to leave, a Western diplomat said, although he said no other embassies planned to evacuate workers.
The US State Department condemned the rebels for trying to destabilise the multi-ethnic country, while NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo said they had arrested 21 armed ethnic Albanians trying to cross the border.
Commander Hoxha's men advanced into the Skopje suburb of Aracinovo late Friday, sparking a panic that the town would be engulfed in the fighting that has brought the multi-ethnic state to the brink of civil war.
Interior ministry spokesman Stevo Pendarovski said that the Slav Macedonian population of a neighbouring village, Stajkovci, had tried to form an armed group to defend themselves from the approaching NLA fighters, but police had stopped them.
He appealed for people to remain calm and not to take the law into their own hands.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said that more than 17,000 ethnic Albanians had fled across the border into Kosovo since Friday, many of them sheltering with friends they put up when the former Yugoslav regime drove hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians out of the province in 1999.
The agency's head, Ruud Lubbers, appealed for an end to the fighting to avert yet another Balkans refugee crisis.
Western diplomats said it was unlikely the rebels' mortars could actually hit the centre of the capital from Aracinovo.
The rebels could however attack the main road leading to the airport, to the southeast of the town, which is a major logistical hub for NATO's peacekeeping operations in Kosovo.
Macedonian ceasefire holds after rebel ambush.
By Alister Doyle
SKOPJE, June 12 (Reuters) - The Macedonian army said it was sticking to a ragged ceasefire on Tuesday despite accusing ethnic Albanian insurgents of ambushing a police patrol overnight in defiance of the brief truce.
A convoy of about 30 trucks from a range of international humanitarian groups queued at an army checkpoint on a road into the main battle zone, awaiting clearance to ferry medical kits and other supplies to civilians behind rebel lines.
The army, which unleashed helicopter gunships, artillery and tanks on guerrilla-held villages for four days in a row before calling a surprise halt to the bombardment on Monday, said it was holding fire even after the after-dark attack on policemen.
"During the night and until now, everything is calm," army spokesman Blagoja Markovski said of the northeastern front where the army has shelled a string of hill villages for five weeks.
But in the northwest, nine policemen were wounded in an attack on a patrol near Tetovo, state news agency MIA said, up from six reported hurt on Monday night. None were critically injured by the machine gun attack, a police source said.
The ambush, near the site of a fatal attack last week which escalated the four-month-old conflict, broke a 24-hour ceasefire announced by the rebels in response to the government truce, the first time both sides had simultaneously agreed to hold fire.
The break in fighting was a surprise first step back from the threat of all-out civil war after rebels threatened to shell the capital after occupying a town on the outskirts of Skopje.
The government did not spell out how long its "temporary ceasefire" could last. The National Liberation Army, which says it is fighting to end discrimination against ethnic Albanians by majority Slavs, did not immediately comment on the Tetovo attack.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that it hoped to take engineers up to a reservoir in a rebel-held area to turn on the valves and let water flow to the government-controlled city of Kumanovo, cut off for a week.
"The rebels cut it off," OSCE ambassador Carlo Ungaro said.
And the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the lead humanitarian group in Macedonia, also said it hoped to be able to take more supplies to rebel-held areas.
The ICRC said it evacuated 42 civilians from the besieged village of Lipkovo on Monday and brought out two wounded civilians. It also evacuated seven people from the small town of Aracinovo on the fringes of Skopje, taken by the NLA on Friday.
More than 6,000 refugees poured over the mountainous border into the Albanian-dominated Serbian province of Kosovo on Monday, the biggest exodus since the insurgency began.
Macedonia's multi-ethnic coalition government, formed under international pressure last month to try to patch up the ethnic divide, denied it was caving in to rebel threats by calling off its assault.
If precedents over the past four months are anything to go by, the latest attack on its forces seems likely to spell an end to the restraint that has been praised by Western allies.
Ethnic Albanians want an end to what they say is official discrimination. But meeting demands for Albanian to be made a second official language and for the constitution to be rewritten could incense the Slav majority.
European Union security chief Javier Solana, the chief architect of Skopje's emergency coalition government, has given it until June 25 to start delivering concessions.
A peace plan presented by Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski last week stopped short of offering amnesty to rebel gunmen but offered incentives for them to surrender.
The NLA responded with its threats to shell government ministries, Skopje airport and other strategic targets which it claims are in range from freshly captured Aracinovo.
"I have not discussed the Bulgarian medical personnel with Arab ambassador", Czar Simeon II said.
At the end of the meeting that Czar Simeon II had with representatives of Libya, Sudan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Egypt and Iraq, he said he had not discussed with the ambassadors of Arabian countries on the lunch that he had organized in Sofia the issue about the trial in Libya against the Bulgarian medical personnel accused in premeditated infecting 400 Libyan children with the HIV virus. He also said he had discussed issues that might be of interest for everybody, but refused to disclose details about the discussions.