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16, March-2001.


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Central Square in Macedonia's Tetovo Shelled.


SKOPJE, Mar 16, 2001 -- (Reuters) At least four shells, apparently mortars, hit the central square of the Macedonian town of Tetovo on Friday, eyewitnesses said.
A correspondent of Russia's NTV television said he was near the empty square when the shells landed. He thought no one was hurt.

It was the first hit inside Tetevo, the main ethnic Albanian town in Macedonia.

A local resident contacted by phone said: "Several shells fell in the central square of Tetovo at 3 p.m. (1400 GMT), near the seat of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA).
The DPA is the main Albanian party which has denounced guerrillas fighting Macedonian troops on the outskirts of Tetovo since Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear who had fired the mortars.

Police Station in Central Macedonia Hit by Gunfire.

Agence France Presse

SKOPJE, Mar 16, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) Unidentifed gunmen raked a police station with automatic gunfire in a central Macedonian village, far from the fighting between Albanian rebel and police, an interior ministry spokesman said Friday.

The shooting late Thursday, in which no injuries were reported, came just before an Albanian rebel leader told AFP his forces were going to open new fronts in the country, warning: "We are capable of setting the whole place ablaze."

Spokesman Stevo Pendarovski said the attack targeted a police station in Zajac village, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) south of the country's main Albanian-populated town Tetovo, where rebels and police were locked into a third day of heavy fighting.

The village is in a majority Albanian area, Pendarovski said. ((c) 2001 Agence France Presse)

About 2,000 Flee Tetovo Fighting.

Agence France Presse

SKOPJE, Mar 16, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) Around 2,000 people have fled the northwestern city of Tetovo after three days of heavy fighting between Albanian rebels and Macedonian security forces, interior ministry spokesman Stevo Pendarovski said Friday. ((c) 2001 Agence France Presse)

Russia Denounces Macedonia Rebels, Backs Government.


MOSCOW, Mar 16, 2001 -- (Reuters) Russia said on Friday it fully backed efforts by the Macedonian government to end the insurgency by ethnic Albanian guerrillas, but expressed concerns the former Yugoslav republic could turn into another Kosovo.

The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its concern about the escalation of violence in Macedonia, where battles between security forces and guerrillas on the outskirts of the town of Tetovo followed a series of border clashes.
"An attempt is staged in Macedonia to repeat the Kosovo scenario," the statement said. Russia bitterly opposed NATO's military operation against Yugoslavia launched in 1999 to force Belgrade to end repression against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

After Yugoslav forces left Kosovo, much of its Serb population was forced to flee, fearing Albanian revenge.
Moscow has sent paratroopers to join the international peacekeeping operation in Kosovo, but Russian leaders remain skeptical about its ability to bring peace back to the devastated province.

"Russia voices full support for the political leadership of the Republic of Macedonia, for the steps it is taking to ensure stability and safety in the country," the Russian statement said.

"Extremists and terrorists should have no doubt that lawful actions by authorities to protect borders, defend territorial integrity and the safety of its citizens will meet full understanding and support from the international community."

Russia, which has criticized NATO actions in Kosovo on grounds they amounted to encouraging secession from Serbia, urged the United Nations to confirm the integrity of borders between former Yugoslav republics.
It also urged Albanian political leaders in Kosovo to distance themselves from the insurgents.

Albania Condemns Separatist Violence in Macedonia.

Agence France Presse

VIENNA, Mar 16, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo on Thursday condemned ethnic Albanian separatists in Macedonia currently fighting government forces near the country's border with Kosovo.

"We support any improvement in the status and rights of Albanians in Macedonia. Extremist actions will not help this," said Milo after a meeting in Vienna with his Yugoslav counterpart Goran Svilanovic.

"We condemn violence wherever it comes from," he said.
Yugoslavia has also faced growing violence in recent weeks from ethnic Albanian separatists in its southern Presevo Valley region, close to the border with UN-administered Kosovo.

Svilanovic said after his meeting with Milo that Yugoslavia will do all it can "to help peace in Macedonia," a former Yugoslav province.

"We fully support the territorial integrity of Macedonia," said Svilanovic.

The two ministers were in Vienna to resume their countries' diplomatic relations, following a January 17 decision by the Albanian and Yugoslav governments to restore their ties, broken in 1999.
"We have confirmed the resumption of diplomatic relations and the willingness to develop bilateral contacts," said Milo.

The ministers said another meeting would take place in Tirana on March 29, and said experts would start preparing for the re-opening of embassies in Belgrade and Tirana.
Milo reiterated Albania's position that elections must be held in Kosovo, while Svilanovic said that Yugoslavia makes the return of all Serbs who have fled the province as a condition for a vote. ((c) 2001 Agence France Presse)

New clashes light Balkans fuse.



THE deadly clashes that have erupted inside the ethnic Albanian towns and villages of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia risk starting a civil war could drag in the tiny Balkan states more powerful neighbours and threaten the stability of the entire region.

Long neglected by Western diplomats and military strategists as a small, peaceful and largely inconsequential player in the Balkans, Macedonia is now belatedly at the forefront of an international effort to halt the conflict before it becomes an all-out war.

Although the casualty toll is still relatively small to date only half a dozen deaths have been recorded among the Macedonian security forces and Albanian civilians it will not take much provocation to split the decade-old republic in two.

The root of the problem is the resentment among the countrys Albanian minority who make up about a third of the population of two million.

Traditionally the majority Macedonian community has dominated the ruling class, occupying key posts in government, the Civil Service and the military.

By religion, language, ethnicity and culture, the Slavic Orthodox Macedonians are closer to their Bulgarian and Serb neighbours than to their Albanian countrymen.

The ethnic Albanians, who have been neglected and discriminated against over generations, are in turn linked by language and religion to their Muslim brethren in Kosovo, southern Serbia and Albania.

Like their brethren across the borders of the former Yugoslavia, the Albanians in Macedonia insist that they had more rights under the old communist regime than they do in the modern republic.

Unlike Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, the two sides have avoided outright confrontation, in part because of co-operation between the main Macedonian and Albanian political parties, which are partners in the ruling coalition. The peace was shattered last month, however, when Albanian nationalist gunmen, calling themselves the National Liberation Army (NLA), started an insurgency from neighbouring Kosovo. What began as a minor border clash high up in the mountain villages has spread quickly to Tetovo, the largest Albanian town, and other villages near the capital, Skopje.

The NLA began fighting a month ago to try to win constitutional changes to guarantee ethnic rights within a binational federation for ethnic Albanians, who have been persecuted and harassed by the Macedonians in employment, education and politics. Albanian political leaders close to the guerrillas deny that the NLA wants Albanians to belong to an independent Kosovo or that its fighters include former Kosovo liberation fighters. They say the insurgency is designed to pressure the Government to begin talks on equal rights while respecting Macedonian borders and national sovereignty.

Macedonians talk darkly today about the division of their country along ethnic lines and express worries that Skopje, their small and, until recently, sleepy capital, will be split in two. The implications of a civil war go far beyond Macedonias borders. The country is a key transit point for the region, linking Serbia and Kosovo to the Greek port of Salonika. Without a stable Macedonia, it is hard to imagine how the Nato-led force in Kosovo will be supplied. Of greater concern is the warning issued by Bulgaria, which has already sent tonnes of military supplies and offered to send troops to support Macedonia.

Privately, Bulgarian officials have said that if the country did have a civil war it would intervene on the side of the Macedonians. Similar warnings have come from Greece and Serbia. Russia also displays an interest.

There is also increasing pressure on Nato and the European Union to come to Macedonias assistance. During the Kosovo conflict Macedonia was praised by the West for taking in hundreds of thousands of Albanian refugees from Kosovo. The authorities also allowed Nato to build up its forces in Macedonia before their deployment in Kosovo.

At the time the West courted Macedonia and every major European leader came to Skopje to thank the authorities and promise help in the future, a British diplomat said. We then forgot all about Macedonia after that. Now we are paying the price.

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