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Macedonian army fires at the ethnic Albanian guerrilla stronghold village of Nikushtag, some 20 km north-east of the capital Skopje on June 26, 2001 as Macedonian army soldiers take shelter in a trench. The shelling coincided with a renewed appeal from the EU for a political solution to a four-month-old guerrilla rebellion which has brought the country close to a wider conflict. REUTERS/Oleg Popov
Smoke covers the mosque at the ethnic Albanian guerrillas stronghold village of Nikushtak, north-east of the capital Skopje June 26, 2001 after a direct hit by a Macedonian army artillery. Macedonia strayed perilously close to wider conflict as fresh fighting followed fierce protests by nationalists enraged at a Western-led evacuation of ethnic Albanian rebels. Despite continued EU and NATO pressure, neither security forces nor guerrillas in the former Yugoslav republic showed a sincere desire for peace. (Oleg Popov/Reuters)
A Macedonian farmer pushes a bike on a road in front of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla stronghold village of Nikushtak, north-east of the capital Skopje on June 26, 2001. Macedonia strayed perilously close to wider conflict as fresh fighting followed fierce protests by nationalists enraged at a Western-led evacuation of ethnic Albanian rebels. Despite continued EU and NATO pressure, neither security forces nor guerrillas in the former Yugoslav republic showed a sincere desire for peace. (Oleg Popov/Reuters)
EU's newly appointed envoy in Macedonia, Francois Leotard (L) answers reporters' questions as EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana puts his arm around him after a meeting at EU Council headquarters in Brussels, June 26, 2001. They discussed the latest development in Macedonia. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
PRESIDENT TRAJKOVSKI'S ADDRESS TO THE PUBLIC.
Citizens of the Republic of Macedonia, all of us together have gone through another sleepless night. Today, we have another day when we the most responsible people have to work on many sides, whereas you expect responses to many questions and dilemmas and you wait for the development of the events in our state, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said Tuesday in his address to the public.
"Therefore, allow me to extend to you few messages where I think you will be able to find part of the answers and that in your souls and hearts this will bring back hope and faith in the responsibility and determination of the state authorities of the Republic of Macedonia to continue to deal with the crisis in the most efficient and painless way.
We have the initial essential results and we must pursue in this way, but in this regard we need not only the help from all politicians especially from the security forces, but also from all citizens of the Republic of Macedonia.
Therefore, I will first address the citizens.
At this time of crisis this nation cannot afford disunity. As I have said before our enemy's aim is to divide us, and our answer must be unity. If we fight amongst ourselves we do the enemy's job for him, and defeat will follow.
Once again I call on you to calm down and to concentrate the anger and strength on our joint goal, defeat of terrorism and success of political talks for a solution to the crisis. You must not doubt that I will invest all my energy in the success of this project in the benefit of Macedonia and its citizens. I have no doubt that all other legitimate authorities and politicians of Macedonia will do the same. Now they need support not divisions and any kind of help is welcomed to be able to achieve their task. I have no doubts that they will do this.
I understand at such a time, it is inevitable that there will be confusion on what is happening, and disagreement on the way ahead. The situation is complex, so forming a policy for victory is far from easy. But through the democratic process we have created a strategy for success, and we will not allow it to be altered by someone who thinks breaking a window is the answer to anything.
I therefore want to lay out the aims of this government especially with regard to recent events. Last week this government had to take decisive action to remove the threat of terrorists operating close to the heart of our capital. The aim of that operation was to force the terrorists out of Arachinovo. With the help of NATO and the EU this government removed the terrorist forces from Arachinovo, quickly and completely. By this method we achieved the same aim as the military operation - to remove the terrorists from the village.
Now I see some people criticize this. Well I reject that criticism, and ask what it is my accusers say I am guilty off? Was it wrong to remove the terrorists from Arachinovo? If so, then I plead guilty.
Was it wrong to end the operation quickly and completely? If so, then I plead guilty.
Was it wrong to stop the needless deaths of our security forces? If so, then I plead guilty.
I appear to be being blamed for achieving success. This policy is also a success for the whole government, because the whole government approved this policy. In matters of such huge importance I would never act alone. At every stage I ensured that all the key ministers were fully involved, not just in the strategy, but in the active implementation of the terrorist withdrawal from Arachinovo.
In the same way I insisted that NATO and the EU act in full consultation with the government, and not take any actions without our approval. So credit for the success in removing the terrorists must be shared amongst many people.
This government must have a long-term vision. Does anyone seriously believe that military victory in one village means the end of the conflict? Of course not. Every action we take has to be put in the context of our overall strategy.
To defeat the terrorists in one place does not defeat them everywhere. By their retreat the terrorists have shown they realize they cannot defeat us, and are seeking a way out. The plan our government has together approved shows the way ahead, with those who have taken up arms laying them down.
The beginning of the realization of my plan for a way out to the crisis, which as I said was unanimously approved both by the Government of the Republic of Macedonia and the International Community, began with Aracinovo. This was not a coincidence.
The terrorist nest in this village represented a direct threat to the city of Skopje to the vital premises in and out of it, but also to the communication links used by the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia and by the KFOR troops.
The implementation of all stages of the plan has one objective to force out the terrorists that have entered our territory while those citizens of the Republic of Macedonia who voluntarily or under threat have taken the arms to be treated in accordance to this plan, which is well known to the domestic and international public.
But some internal forces involved on all levels of the state, seem to be frightened by the beginning of the success of the operations. They have undertaken totally unacceptable measures and activities in order to prevent the implementation of the plan and to provoke internal tensions and civil confrontations of larger scale as their ultimate goal.
But I assure you that we will not allow this to happen. I must say to the Macedonian public that the case of Aracinovo, proved how the military means first and than political and diplomatic means can be used in a combined way supported unanimously by the whole top authorities of the Republic of Macedonia and with a large support from the international community and the NATO structures.
This is the most efficient way to free out territories from the terrorist thugs, by avoiding at the same time large number of victims among the members of the security forces of the Republic of Macedonia. During last night expression of revolt among some members of the reserve units of the police forces and citizens of Skopje, the organizers did not have the courage to explain to them that there are no more terrorists in Aracinovo.
I am entirely convinced that there are dilemmas, ambiguities and revolt because of the duration of the crisis. We always have to turn to the ultimate goal and time will show that these steps are the only right way to reestablish peace and security on the whole territory of the Republic of Macedonia and in our homes, and not measure the price with the number of victims.
Arachinovo is no more a threat to Skopje and the communication and strategic premises of our state. We must not stop here. We must now exploit this success, reinvigorate the political dialogue with all legitimate parties in Macedonia. The men of violence must lay down their weapons, so that all Macedonian citizens can live in peace.
I do not agree with those who tried to transfer yesterday Aracinovo in Skopje, though I understand the revolt of the people. All those who last night were breaking the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia, they were destroying our state. Last nights firing in the building of the Assembly could have easily dragged us into a civil war. I will repeat again, I understand the revolt of the citizens, which could have been peacefully expressed before the Assembly, but I do not understand the meaning of the rifles.
As a human being I sympathize with all the families, which in this senseless war lost their most beloved. But I call upon all of you to face the reality.
I offer you peace and seek support from you. I am committed to the longer but the only right way for a lasting and long-term solution to our difficult task. We will defeat those who want to force us into war.
We have before us a formidable task, but it is one that will become impossible if we fight amongst ourselves. The government has created a joint policy, and every minister has been consulted, and accepted it. This has required argument, compromises, and debate, but the end result is a joint policy, which I believe is the only way we will succeed.
This is a time for strong nerves, and calmness. We are in this together and we will succeed together. Those who are committed to a path of evil and violence cannot succeed in the fact of unity, and will be condemned to the dustbin of history.
History will remember that when faced with evil the people of Macedonia practiced patience and diplomacy and chose the road of peace. It is written, 'Blessed are the peacemakers' and history will remember that for ten years the people of Macedonia suffered through sanctions and economic troubles, yet held firm to multi-ethnic society and coexistence.
In these troubled times I call upon you all to hold firm to the principles that have served us well. At the same time I believe, that if we hold our nerve, we are also on the verge of a solution that will allow our country to reach its destination.
Namely our objective is and will be to remove the terrorists from the Macedonian territory. We are trying to achieve this, in a way that will result with the least possible victims and will be the most rapid at the same time. The isolation of the terrorists is also a precondition to efficient political talks and results in view of strengthening the civil character of the state.
We have used and we will use various tactics in trying to achieve our objective and this is the legitimate possibility of our policy. And we should not be interpreting each of these tactics too rapidly and superficially as a defeat or abandon of the defined objective. I assure you that by the end of this process every inch of the Macedonian territory will be under the control of the Macedonian security forces and that Macedonia will have a civil order whose stability will be the result of joint efforts of all citizens of the state. That we will achieve our objective of becoming a member to the EU and NATO institutions as a guarantee to lasting stability and security and development.
I call on you not to allow hatred to control your lives. We must be united and defeat this evil. We must be united in our fight against any form of evil and tyranny. We will not have a second chance.
Thank you, God save Macedonia and its citizens," Trajkovski said in his address to the public.
BOSKOVSKI: MACEDONIAN SECURITY FORCES ENTER IN ARACINOVO.
Macedonian Minister of Internal Affairs Ljube Boskovski said today in Aracinovo, where the Macedonian security forces started cleaning the terrain, that machines that might have been used for production of improvised ammunition were discovered in the village.
"We won the battle, and our forces are here to establish order and peace and to restore the calmness amongst the citizens of Skopje," Boskovski stated.
Commenting the claims by some Albanian citizens of Aracinovo, that the Macedonian security forces are not liberators but liberator is 'UCK', Boskovski said that the revolt by a part of the Albanians is understandable, and comes as a result from the indoctrination of the so-called NLA.
"The Ministry of Interior is the only institution that has the authority to implement the peace and order on every inch of the Macedonian territory, and the Ministry carries out its tasks in a manner like in every democratic country, and I am certain that Macedonia is such a country," Boskovski said.
He added that besides the police troops, representatives of the international community as well as of the judiciary are also present in Aracinovo in order to determine the factual situation and to undertake measures according to the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia.
"The investigation continues. No one can be convicted up front, but if proved that some of the people who remained in the village actively participated in the attacks against the Macedonian security forces or that they provided logistic support to the terrorists, adequate legal measures will be undertaken against them," Boskovski said, asked whether some of the people who remained in the village actively participate in the terrorist activities.
Asked if there is a program for reconstruction of the houses in Aracinovo, he said: "our goal was to restore the constitutional order in the village and the state leadership undertakes measures to bring the civilians back to their homes."
He pointed out that the financing of this operation should be a question for the International Monetary Fund and all other institutions that together with the Macedonian Government would provide assistance.
Asked if there were any information about where the Albanian terrorists were dislocated, Boskovski said that this question would be answered in the forthcoming period.
"We hope that the peace would be restored in Macedonia and that there will be no more provocations from the Albanian terrorists. We apply the priority rule - to proportionally respond to every provocation from the terrorists," Minister Boskovski stated.
"If the terrorists continue provoking us they will be eliminated," he stressed.
Rebel escort sparks a descent into chaos for Macedonia.
Jane's Defense Weekly
By Tim Ripley,Skopje
Monday's dramatic intervention by US troops to escort ethnic Albanian rebels from a suburb of the Macedonian capital, Skopje, sparked nationalist rioting in the city that threatens to bring down the country's moderate president, Boris Trajkovski.
More than 5,000 Macedonians stormed the parliament building while Special Police units looked on without intervening, leading to fears that Trajkovski is losing control of his security forces. The president was due to make a television address on Tuesday afternoon, but the time kept being put back, indicating confusion in the government over how to deal with the spiralling crisis.
Ultra-national groups have called for 'patriotic Macedonians' from all over the country to gather again outside the parliament building on Tuesday, as they ratcheted up the coalition government, which they say is 'soft on Albanian terrorists'.
Macedonian refugees from rebel-held Aracinovo, four miles north-east of Skopje, have been protesting for the past five days about the government's failure to dislodge the ethnic Albanian fighters of the National Liberation Army (NLA), who occupied the strategic location for more than two weeks. International diplomats and journalists were regularly stoned and beaten up by demonstrators in the Macedonian villages neighbouring Aracinovo, but Monday's rioting indicates the unrest felt by the Macedonian population at the new Western involvement in the crisis is widespread.
Last Friday the Macedonians launched an 'all-out offensive' to drive the rebels out of Aracinovo, culminating in a failed ground assault on Saturday that left five Macedonian policemen dead and more than a dozen injured.
With the situation spiralling out of control, European foreign policy chief Xavier Solana flew to Skopje on Saturday in an attempt to kick-start the stalled peace process. By the middle of Sunday afternoon he got an agreement on a ceasefire and opened the way for NATO 'Balkan troubleshooter' Peiter Feith to broker a local rebel withdrawal from Aracinovo to a village 10km to the north. The rebels were allowed to take their weapons with them and an 'international presence' was to remain in the village to protect Albanian civilians from revenge attacks by Macedonian police and civilians.
The intervention of what turned out to be a 40-vehicle-strong US convoy, however, enraged Macedonian nationalists when footage of KFOR vehicles escorting buses full of NLA fighters was shown on local television stations.
As the withdrawal operation was underway, rebels attacked government positions around the western city of Tetovo, killing one policemen and wounding five others. Summing up the situation, an international diplomat said neither side was yet ready to stick to any ceasefire. "It is clearly difficult to sell a ceasefire and negotiations with the rebels to the Macedonian public," he said. "What was achieved? Nothing except a little psychological relief to Skopje."
MILITARY AIRCRAFT OBSERVER "SU-25" INVOLVED IN ARACHINOVO-ACTION.
As announced by Blagoja Markovski, Macedonian Army Spokesman, at about 10:40 a.m., one of the military airplanes SU-25 belonging to the Macedonian Army (MA) was involved in the actions undertaken over Arachinovo village, for the first time in Macedonia ever.
Markovski added that the first mission of the plane SU-25 will not be a military but observing action.
According to the Spokesman Markovski, the MA security forces will continue their activities in Arachinovo area as scheduled, until the planed actions are brought to the end.
"The special MA units and the police forces have already penetrated the village. It is noticeable that the terrorists are retreating and regrouping," said MA Spokesman Blagoja Markovski for MIA.
Macedonian fury as tanks stop rolling.
Special report: Macedonia
Rory Carroll in Skopje
Tuesday June 26, 2001
Three uniformed reservists broke into the parliament building in Macedonia's capital last night and were cheered by a crowd of at least 5,000 people in the square outside as they fired shots into the air from the balcony.
The crowd, waving Macedonian flags, denounced the government for bowing to western pressure in calling a ceasefire, and demanded an all-out attack on the ethnic Albanian rebels.
Dozens of soldiers in uniform were cheered when they joined the crowd, some wielding machine guns. As the night wore on they tore down barricades in front of the parliament and thronged the steps of the building.
There were cheers when some soldiers fired shots into the air, and as armed groups of reservists fanned out through the city gunfire was heard in the Albanian quarter of Skopje.
A television cameraman was chased by some of the crowd and people speaking foreign languages were abused.
There was no sign of the police, and ethnic Albanians who were in the centre to visit restaurants melted back across the river to where Albanians are the majority.
The crowd sang a second world war partisan song with the lyrics amended to say they wanted to kill Albanians rather than Germans.
Macedonian radio and news reports increased the tension with exaggerated accounts of casualties.
The demonstration seems to have begun when 30 police officers gathered in front of the parliament building to complain about the decision to allow the rebels to withdraw with their weapons.
It came hours after convoys of rebels left the village of Aracinovo under a ceasefire mediated by the European Union.
Earlier yesterday, residents on the outskirts of Aracinovo had scanned the skies in vain for helicopter gunships.
No tanks roared past as one local, Beti, and her infant son, Filip, sipped orange juice in the garden of their old family home.
No soldiers clanked through the fields, no shells whizzed overhead. The only sounds from the road were the occasional car, children playing and the creak of a neighbour's bicycle.
That temporary tranquillity felt strange after three days of explosions and gunfire as government forces besieged ethnic Albanian rebels in the village, just a few hundred metres up the road.
But as the convoy of buses carrying the rebels left the village, a heavy exchange of fire began around the town of Tetovo to the west. Interior ministry officials said one policeman was killed and five wounded when the rebels attacked their positions in the Sar mountains above Tetovo.
Beti, 24, a Slavic Macedonian, fled to to her father's house on the outskirts of Aracinovo when the rebels took the centre of the village two weeks ago.
Gratitude for the truce, relief even, was absent. She wanted the bombardment to resume, instantly if possible.
She wanted to see rockets slamming into houses, smoke pluming overhead and commandos swarming into battle. She wanted victory.
"We could have taken the village in 24 hours but the European Union stopped us. They told us to not use all our force. So now the terrorists will escape. We should continue this war and finish it."
Her father and sister murmured agreement: the Albanian-loving west had yet again stopped the Macedonian government from snuffing out the five-month insurrection.
The government claimed that the rebels had surrendered - a fiction relayed by some Macedonian media - but the crowds of angry Macedonians gathered at army cordons were not fooled. "This is a disgrace. We had them trapped and now they escape," said one man.
They blocked a car carrying EU officials and stoned foreign journalists, considered to be Albanian sympathisers, but could not prevent the buses leaving.
The EU and Nato say military action cannot end the conflict, but for many Macedonians it is the only solution: legitimate and decisive. Special units, backed up by airpower and artillery, would smash the rebels if only allowed off the leash, they said.
"Only 10% of our military capacity has been used," said a journalist from a leading newspaper. Europe's frustration with Macedonia is reciprocated twofold.
Western military analysts scoff, saying the badly trained Macedonian forces can engage but not defeat the rebel force, which gains support at every heavy-handed response.
Diplomats say Skopje realised its forces could not take Aracinovo, where cellars sheltered the rebels from the bombardment, leaving them to pick off four government soldiers before Sunday's ceasefire.
The ethnic Albanian mayor, Reshat Serati, said he knew of only two fatalities in the village, both elderly and civilian.
EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg spoke of consolidating the ceasefire, but for some Macedonians it was the interruption of a civil war that needs to be fought and won.
"I had many Albanian friends but then the terrorists arrived and they supported them; it was a betrayal. The Albanians have all gone, but if they try to come back they will not be welcome," Beti's father Dragi said.
Goran Stomatolog, a dentist, said he had been radicalised. "All Albanians are terrorists. Even the supposed moderate ones in the government."
But one Macedonian, a woodcutter, welcomed the ceasefire. "We cannot win the war. Negotiation is the only way."
An elderly woman tried to rouse morale by cycling around the outskirts of Aracinovo clutching a Macedonian flag. "Hurrah!" she shouted. Even the soldiers laughed.
NATO, EU solidly behind political solution to Macedonian violence.
BRUSSELS, June 26 (AFP) -
NATO and the European Union put their heads together Tuesday on a political solution to the escalating violence in Macedonia, vowing that "radicals" on both sides would have to abandon violence and "learn to behave like Europeans."
"The only way through the current dilemma is to ensure that political dialogue produces results and that there is an end to violence," NATO Secretary General George Robertson told reporters after a meeting of the alliance and the EU's Political and Security Committee.
Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for foreign and security policy, backed a speech by Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, in which he defended a controversial NATO-brokered evacuation of ethnic Albanian rebels from Aracinovo, a suburb of the capital Skopje.
The ethnic Albanian rebels have been waging a tenacious armed struggle against Macedonian forces for five months in the name of winning more rights for ethnic Albanians in the country.
Solana acknowledged there were "radicals" on both the Macedonian Slav and ethnic Albanian sides, and "we just have to work with the non-radicals."
He said Trajkovski's speech earlier Tuesday had made "a very clear statement that he wants to lead his country in the direction of Europe."
But Europe, added Solana, "does not resolve problems through the use of force ... but through dialogue and negotiations, and if they want to be part of the family of European countries, they have to learn to behave like Europeans."
Robertson said the "evacuating and demilitarizing of Aracinovo ... was a very substantial success ... an action taken with the full agreement of the government of Skopje."
The suburb was "a direct threat to the city of Skopje, to the airport and to vital infrastructure, and this evacuation was an important first step to achieve a cessation of all the violence," he said.
He made clear that NATO would under no circumstances be drawn into a shooting war, saying the alliance "stands ready to help with disarmament as part of an overall settlement."
"Planning is being urgently completed within NATO," he said, referring to a 3,000-troop force that was being readied to move in and collect surrendered weapons from the ethnic Albanian rebels once a political settlement was achieved.
"Political solutions are the only way forward," he said. "Violence no longer has a place here. I strongly condemn the armed extremists for challenging democratic institutions in Macedonia.
"I want NATO and the European Union to help the people of Macedonia to regain their own future and avoid a bloody civil war," he said.
Macedonian PM says army can defeat rebels.
SKOPJE, June 26 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said on Tuesday that Macedonia's security forces could defeat an ethnic Albanian guerrilla revolt without outside help.
"We should not have illusions that somebody will come and fight for us. We have to fight for ourselves and we are capable of doing that," he said in an interview on state television.
European Union foreign affairs and security chief Javier Solana said earlier on Tuesday that Macedonian army and police could not defeat the insurgents and renewed calls for a political solution.
Georgievski said the army had modern weaponry but its soldiers needed serious improvement in waging their first war. A new elite military unit would be formed for hand-to-hand combat, he said.
Georgievski said a Western-led evacuation of ethnic Albanian rebels from the village of Aracinovo overlooking Skopje on Monday was justified because a preceding three-day ground assault by the army had brought little result.
The evacuation triggered nationalist riots in the capital on Monday night during which armed police reservists broke into the parliament building and fired assault weapons into the air.
Georgievski denounced the protest but in a milder terms than President Boris Trajkovski's contention earlier Tuesday that it could have led to civil war.
"I can understand the anger of those who were protesting peacefully but I can not understand others who attacked the building of parliament," he said.
Georgievski also said: "We are facing a critical phase in the next week or 10 days. I am a pessimist and I do not think this will be the last one...More critical phases will come and we will have to be more decisive to overcome them."
Macedonian president urges security forces to back him after riot casts doubt on their loyalty.
SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) Macedonia's president appealed Tuesday to police and soldiers to back his peace efforts after rioting triggered by the U.S.-assisted evacuation of ethnic Albanian rebels from a besieged town cast doubt on their loyalty.
Boris Trajkovski said the rioting led by armed reservists outside Parliament Monday night could have brought Macedonia to civil war. Security forces present did not intervene, even after rioters opened fire with automatic weapons on Parliament.
Rioters were angered when American troops provided Humvees, trucks, buses and ambulances on Monday to support a NATO effort to evacuate about 500 armed rebels from Aracinovo, a town near the capital, Skopje, on Monday as part of a cease-fire.
Protesters saw it as an unnecessary concession since the rebels had reportedly raised a white flag to surrender to government forces.
Trajkovski on Tuesday strongly defended a NATO-brokered deal to remove the rebels from Aracinovo, saying they now no longer pose a threat to Skopje, just four miles away, or the nearby airport. He also pledged to regain control of rebel-held territory within Macedonia's boundaries.
"We are not fighting against one another. This is what the enemy wishes. If we accept that way, defeat will be inevitable," Trajkovski said in a taped evening broadcast on state television.
A regular Cabinet meeting and a news conference by the foreign minister were canceled following the rioting.
"I do not agree but I understand the revolt of the population," Trajkovski said. But "I do not understand why the shooting occurred, why the people and those gathered reservists shot at the Macedonian Parliament. The shooting could have easily turned to a civil war."
Trajkovski was trying to preserve his peace plan calling for amnesty for most rebels who disarm voluntarily and greater inclusion of ethnic Albanians in state bodies and institutions.
The spokesman for the Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity, Zahir Bekteshi, said his party would continue to support Trajkovski's efforts toward peace. And Iljaz Halimi, the deputy chairman of the Democratic Party of Albanians, part of the coalition government, said the rioting "should not reflect negatively on relations among the parties."
In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the violence is "a reminder of how delicate the situation is in Macedonia and why the only solution to the problem there is a political one, not a military one."
Calm returned to Skopje Tuesday but scattered gunfire was reported in Macedonia's second largest city, Tetovo, and in Nikustak, the village the rebels evacuated from Aracinovo were taken to.
An ethnic Albanian threat to march into major cities, meanwhile, also heightened tensions. Commander Sokoli, a rebel leader, said there were "two brigades on the outskirts of Skopje." Fighters from other areas stood ready to "protect the Albanians if they become targets of violence," he said.
The lack of progress toward peace has dismayed European Union leaders, trying for months to persuade the two sides to compromise and avert civil war in the country of 2 million people.
The NATO escort Monday marked the force's first direct role in the conflict since fighting broke out in February, when militants began taking over villages near the border with Kosovo whose population is predominantly ethnic Albanian to demand more rights.
NATO Secretary Lord Robertson and Javier Solana, the EU top foreign policy and security chief, held crisis talks on Macedonia Tuesday in Brussels, Belgium.
Robertson defended the decision to allow the ethnic Albanian rebels to leave Aracinovo, which had been under siege by Macedonian forces for three days.
"This evacuation is an important first step to achieve a cessation of all violence throughout the country. A political solution .... is the only way forward," Robertson said.
In a bid to appease the country's Slavic majority, Robertson condemned "the armed extremists for challenging democratic institutions inside Macedonia."
UK foreign secretary cancels Macedonia trip.
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON, June 26 (Reuters) - British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called off a trip to Macedonia on Tuesday after protests erupted on the streets of Skopje and fighting flared elsewhere.
"In light of the situation currently prevailing in Macedonia I have decided it is appropriate not to go ahead with my visit to Skopje," Straw told reporters in London.
"The priority clearly today is to calm the situation. Of course there is concern about what happened last night."
He said that despite the growing threat of wider conflict between Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority and Slav majority, NATO would not move in a planned force of about 3,000 troops until a political settlement between the sides was reached.
"What we want to see is a return to relative stability so that the political process can restart," he said.
Britain, which has 2,000 troops in Bosnia and 3,500 in Kosovo, is expected to take a leading role in any NATO force for Macedonia.
The troops would help collect and destroy weapons belonging to ethnic Albanian rebels fighting Macedonian forces in the north of the Balkan state.
Straw urged Albanian and Macedonian politicians to return to the negotiating table, saying the West could play an important role in brokering peace, but the fate of the former Yugoslav republic ultimately lay in the hands of its people.
"Their only future is to live and work together within those borders, and it has been the determination of NATO and the European Union to secure that end."
Western leaders have pressured Skopje to end months of simmering conflict with Albanians demanding greater rights.
But thousands of Macedonian Slavs took to the streets on Monday to protest against NATO's operation to escort Albanian rebels out of the village of Aracinovo under a ceasefire deal.
A policeman was killed in clashes elsewhere and on Tuesday the army started shelling rebel positions in another village.
Straw replaced Robin Cook as foreign secretary in a post-election cabinet reshuffle this month.
Russia says tensions not easing in Macedonia.
MOSCOW, June 26 (Reuters) - Russia said on Tuesday recent anti-government protests by the Slav majority in Macedonia were a response to "terrorist" activity by minority ethnic Albanian extremists.
Thousands of Slavs protested in the Macedonian capital Skopje on Monday against the government's handling of an ethnic Albanian rebellion, and armed police reservists broke into the parliament building.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that tension was being caused by "destructive activities of terrorists and the promotion of political demands which if realised could lead to a collapse of the state."
Moscow has long referred to the Albanian guerrillas as terrorists.
"This is provoking growing protests within Macedonian society, manifested by large demonstrations in front of the country's parliament," it added.
The protest followed a deal, brokered and implemented by NATO and the European Union, that allowed ethnic Albanian rebels to leave the village of Aracinovo close to the capital and return to guerilla-held territory with their arms.
It was aggravated by news that a policeman had been killed and three injured in fighting with guerillas near the northwestern city of Tetovo.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was vital to end guerrilla activity by disarming and disbanding units, and to continue dialogue with "legal, elected representatives of the Albanian people."
The result of any dialogue should be the unconditional preservation of Macedonia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, it said.
The latest protests raised fears Macedonia may be sliding towards civil war after four months of a rebellion which has seen dozens of Macedonian troops killed and anti-Albanian riots in the second city Bitola.
Greece urges world intervention in Macedonia.
ATHENS, June 26 (Reuters) - Greece on Tuesday urged the world community to step in immediately in neighbouring Macedonia to stop an escalating crisis that would make later international military intervention futile.
"I think it is imperative to have an international initiative for a final effort to end this vicious cycle of polarisation," Foreign Minister George Papandreou told a Greek radio station from Luxembourg during a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
"If not, the extremist elements will take the upper hand...the more moderate voices will disappear," he said.
Papandreou, who earlier this month proposed the deployment of a military peacekeeping force once a peace deal was brokered, said such an army would be useless if the world community waited too long and a full-scale civil war broke out.
"It's not certain that an army of whatever stature could stop hostilities in neighbourhoods, among homes, among families," he said.
Greece, itself locked in a long-running dispute with Macedonia over the country's name being the same as that of a northern Greek province, is worried that rising violence could spill over to other Balkan nations.
The Macedonian army started shelling ethnic Albanian rebels in the northeast on Tuesday as the EU appealed for a political solution to the four-month guerrilla rebellion which has brought the country closer to a wider conflict.
Papandreou warned that an international force must be preceded by political consensus in Macedonia.
"A minimum political agreement, a ceasefire and disarming must exist before the...international powers enter to stabilise the situation," he said.
Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority accounts for about a third of the country's population. Rebels say they are fighting for more rights.
Rebel commander in Macedonia says he is in capital.
SKOPJE, June 26 (Reuters) - An ethnic Albanian rebel commander said on Tuesday he was in Skopje to "defend civilians" after fierce protests by nationalists angered by a NATO-led evacuation of his guerrillas from a village near the Macedonian capital.
"You can see that Macedonian forces do not respect a ceasefire," the commander who uses the nom de guerre Hoxha told Reuters by telephone.
"We pulled out from Aracinovo with one battalion under an agreement with (Macedonian President Boris) Trajkovski. Then last night we had to come to Skopje to defend civilians in Albanian-populated quarters."
It was impossible to get independent confirmation of his claim. Macedonian forces shelled rebel-held villages near Aracinovo on Tuesday morning.
On Monday night, thousands of angry Macedonians protested against the NATO-led evacuation of Hoxha's rebels from Aracinovo which overlooks Skopje.
Armed police reservists broke into the parliament building. The protest triggered fears of Albanian pogroms.
But despite calls of "Death to Albanians!" the crowd did not cross the river Vardar to the old quarter of town, lined with Albanian shops. A few windows were broken overnight, but most were left untouched.
On Tuesday, Albanian shops closed their doors and men prepared to take their wives and children out of town. Some planned to keep a low profile, others said they were waiting for orders from guerrilla leaders.
After his fighters took Aracinovo Hoxha threatened to attack Skopje and its nearby airport.
He said on Monday he had "two battalions" inside Skopje.
Solana rebukes Macedonia government "radicals"
By Douglas Hamilton
BRUSSELS, June 26 (Reuters) - European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana warned on Tuesday of the dangers of radicals within Macedonia's government, insisting that Albanian rebels could not be defeated militarily.
"Look. There's radicals on both sides. One has to work with those who are not radicals," he said, appearing with NATO Secretary-General George Robertson after talks on the Balkan country's crisis.
Without naming Prime Minister Ljbuco Georgievski or Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, Solana said that last week "somebody advised the government that they could go on a military operation and in three hours they could solve the problem."
"At the end of the third day they had to call in the international community to solve the problem through dialogue," Solana said, referring to a failed army offensive last week to drive ethnic Albanian rebels from Aracinovo, near the capital.
"I think that's a good lesson that everybody has to learn, even those members of the government who thought they could solve the problem in three hours," Solana said.
Deliberately playing down Monday's assault on parliament by an angRy mob of Macedonians and gun-toting police demanding weapons to kill Albanians, Robertson and Solana stressed that political dialogue was the only solution.
Macedonian leaders from both camps, plus international envoys despatched to facilitate their talks, must work urgently and intensively to come up with a peace settlement, they said.
Monday's protesters were angered by the NATO and EU role in evacuating the guerrillas from Aracinovo, along with their weapons, in an operation seen as vital to removing their threat to the capital and lowering the temperature.
"The success yesterday in evacuating and demilitarising Aracinovo was a very subStantial success," Robertson said.
"The action was taken with the full agreement of the government in Skopje and it was achieved with professionalism and skill," he went on. "It was an important first step to achieve a cessation of all the violence."
Robertson said NATO was working at "historic speed" to prepare for a mission to collect guerrilla arms -- a mission NATO insists will only take place "in a benign environment" once there is a ceasefire and a firm political agreement.
Both side-stepped a question on how long they could collaborate with a government including radicals.
"The president of the republic, Mr (Boris) Trajkovski, has been my interlocutor normally," Solana answered.
"And he has today made a very clear statement of where he wants to lead that country...the direction is Europe...and Europe does not resolve problems by use of force."
After introducing Francois Leotard, the newly appointed EU resident envoy to Macedonia, Solana obliquely addressed concerns heard in diplomatic circles that Leotard was thrust on him by French President Jacques Chirac and might not be suitable.
"The fact that we are going to have somebody under my authority there permanently -- because I cannot do it every day -- I think, with the cooperation of both sides, I hope we will move THE process forward rapidly," he said.
"He is representing the European Union and without any doubt both sides would like to be part of the European Union and they will accept the representative. But I will be there too, don't worry."
Pentagon says Albanian evacuation was right action.
By Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON, June 26 (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Tuesday stood by a decision to send U.S. troops to evacuate ethnic Albanian rebels with their weapons from a village in Macedonia, saying the goal had been to defuse a volatile situation.
It was the first time the U.S. military had taken such an active step in the conflict between the government and minority ethnic Albanians in the Balkan state.
But a Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, said the action did not suggest a new U.S. or NATO policy.
"It was a new event. We've not done this before. But what I'm reluctant to predict is this being a harbinger of some major new policy decision and a new area of continued activity on the part of U.S. forces," he said. "I do not think that is the case."
The evacuation on Monday sparked riots in the Macedonian capital Skopje by ethnic Slavs furious at a cease-fire deal that allowed the U.S. evacuation of ethnic Albanian rebels.
Discussions on using U.S. troops started on Sunday night, including talks between NATO Secretary General George Robertson and Supreme Commander Gen. Joseph Ralston.
The evacuation decision was agreed to by NATO, the European Union, the Macedonian government and the ethnic Albanian rebels, Quigley said.
"In this particular case we feel very much that it was the right thing to do," he said at a media briefing.
A U.S. convoy of about 20 vehicles, mostly buses and four armored Humvees armed with machine guns, evacuated about 350 ethnic Albanians including about 100 rebels from the village of Aracinovo to another village 11 miles (18 km) away, Quigley said.
The convoy involved 81 U.S. military personnel and 20 others mainly driving the buses, the Pentagon said.
After the convoy dropped the Albanians off at the village, it took nine hours to return to Camp Able Sentry, less than 10 miles (16 km) from Aracinovo, because large groups of people, some armed, had gathered at checkpoints.
When the convoy arrived at the first checkpoint a crowd started to gather with weapons, so the U.S. commander decided to seek another route, Quigley said.
A Hunter unmanned aerial vehicle was sent to scout ahead on the second route and it detected another checkpoint at which a crowd was gathering, he said.
So the convoy halted and sent the Hunter to search for a third route that was clear.
The United States was the only country that provided the troops and the vehicles for the evacuation because they were immediately available, Quigley said.
"Speed was an important element of this operation because of the rising tensions and the desire to defuse it as quickly as possible," he said.
The United States urged Macedonians on Tuesday to pull back from "mob action" after riots prompted the Balkan state's president to issue a stark warning on the threat of civil war.
"I want to make clear that we condemn the violence overnight in Skopje. The European Union has said the same thing. We join them in that condemnation," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a news briefing.
Macedonian Slavs riot over Nato peace deal.
By Christian Jennings in Skopje and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels.
SLAV nationalists stormed the Macedonian parliament in Skopje last night, as up to 10,000 people demonstrated against their government's co-operation with Nato in escorting besieged Albanian rebels to safety in an effort to bring peace to the country.
The demonstrators demanded the resignation of President Boris Trajkovski, while a small group of several dozen protesters smashed their way through police cordons and broke into the parliament building. Mr Trajkovski was in the building, meeting the heads of the country's political parties, as a screaming crowd gathered in the square outside waving Macedonian flags and shouting, "Resign, Trajkovski" and "Nato traitors".
Police in body armour and with assault rifles struggled to form defensive lines outside the parliament, but protesters reached a balcony at the front of the building where they tore down the national flag.
Earlier there were enormous cheers as lines of military reservists, waving flags, pushed to the front of the crowd, which smashed black limousines belonging to the presidential motorcade and hurled computers out of the parliament building's windows. Dozens of police stood by and did nothing to stop the riots.
They did not even react when a small group of demonstrators pulled out guns and opened fire into the air. But heavy machine-gun fire was later heard outside the parliament, and the crowds were said to have scattered.
Slav paramilitary organisers were believed to be behind the protests, which followed a deal between Nato, the Macedonian government and Albanian rebels whereby the self-styled National Liberation Army was allowed to leave the Skopje suburb of Aracinovo under heavy Nato escort after being pinned down by four days of heavy government artillery and tank fire.
A convoy of coaches left Aracinovo in what rebel commanders claimed was a "sign of goodwill". The start of the evacuation brought closer the possibility that hundreds of British troops could deploy under a Nato plan to disarm the ethnic Albanian rebels, whose five-month insurgency had brought them to within three miles of Skopje.
But last night Macedonian artillery again opened fire on rebel positions in the western town of Tetovo after rebel forces allegedly fired rockets at a police checkpoint. Western officials said as night fell that up to 50 American and French Nato vehicles were inside Aracinovo waiting to escort out about 300 armed rebels as well as more than 100 Albanian civilians, terrified of revenge attacks by Macedonian Slavs. Another Western diplomat said Aracinovo was now a demilitarised zone.
Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers sent a warning to Macedonia that it could face diplomatic isolation and a suspension of further EU aid if it tried to crush the ethnic Albanian rebels rather than negotiate.
Bulgaria's Kostov quits party job after poll defeat.
By Elisaveta Konstantinova
SOFIA, June 26 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's outgoing Prime Minister Ivan Kostov stepped down as chairman of the centre-right Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) on Tuesday after a severe general election defeat on June 17.
"At this moment I am not useful to the UDF as chairman and I resign," Kostov told a news conference after a six-hour meeting of the UDF leadership, the National Council.
UDF parliamentary group leader Ekaterina Mihailova, a close aide of Kostov, replaced him.
"I ask those who trust me to have confidence in the new chairperson, so that we can put the UDF back on its feet," Kostov said. Kostov will be one of UDF's 12-member leadership.
His resignation had been expected to pave the way for a coalition with the two-month old National Movement for Simeon II, which fell one seat short of an absolute parliamentary majority.
But Mihailova is a UDF hardliner who believes it is in the party's interest to remain in opposition, regardless of common goals with dethroned monarch Simeon.
Simeon has proposed a broad coalition based on radical market reform and EU and NATO membership.
"The UDF lost the election and has no leading role in coalition talks. Those who won the election are to choose partners," Mihailova said at the same news conference.
Popular UDF politicians such as Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofianski have said joining a coalition with Simeon would be a logical continuation of UDF policies, but they are a minority.
The UDF-led alliance, which had an outright majority in the outgoing legislature, shrank to 51 seats in the new assembly, three seats more than the ex-communist Socialists, who were ousted from power in 1997. Simeon's group has 120 deputies.
The UDF carried out Bulgaria's severest reforms which eroded dwindling incomes. Frequent allegations of high-level corruption further knocked the reformist party's popularity.
"UDF's policy was right. It gave Bulgaria a new face and laid the ground for negotiations on the European Union and NATO membership, there is financial stability," said outgoing Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova.
(Additional reporting by Galina Sabeva)