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24, May-2001.

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Thursday.

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A Macedonian MI-24 helicopter fires flares as another one prepares to attack Vaksince village May 24, 2001 during an offensive by Macedonian forces against ethnic Albanian rebels. Macedonia ordered its armed forces to launch an offensive to drive ethnic Albanian guerrillas from a cluster of villages along they have held for the past three weeks along the northeast border with Kosovo. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

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A Macedonian MI-8 support helicopter flies down to Vaksince village May 24, 2001 during an air attack by Macedonian forces against ethnic Albanian rebels. Macedonia ordered its armed forces to launch an offensive to drive ethnic Albanian guerrillas from a cluster of villages along they have held for the past three weeks along the northeast border with Kosovo. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

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A Macedonian soldier runs for cover behind members of the media at Vaksince village May 24, 2001 during an attack by Macedonian forces against ethnic Albanian rebels. Macedonia ordered its armed forces to launch an offensive to drive ethnic Albanian guerrillas from a cluster of villages along they have held for the past three weeks along the northeast border with Kosovo. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

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A Macedonian soldier gestures on top of an APC as it leaves the area near Vaksince village May 24, 2001 during an attack by Macedonian forces against ethnic Albanian rebels. Macedonia ordered its armed forces to launch an offensive to drive ethnic Albanian guerrillas from a cluster of villages along they have held for the past three weeks along the northeast border with Kosovo. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

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A Macedonian soldier looks back to Vaksince village from an armored personnel carrier leaving the area May 24, 2001, during an attack by Macedonian forces against ethnic Albanian rebels. Macedonia ordered its armed forces to launch an offensive to drive ethnic Albanian guerrillas from a cluster of villages along they have held for the past three weeks along the northeast border with Kosovo. MACEDONIA OUT REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

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A Chechen child looks from a hole made by a shell fragment in his house's gate in the rebel region's capital Grozny, May 24, 2001. Russia has made a battle with Islamic extremists the cornerstone of its efforts to increase its security ties with other ex-Soviet states. Russian President Vladimir Putin has referred to an "arc of extremism" stretching from Afghanistan to Chechnya to Kosovo. The chalk writing on the metal reads "People live here". REUTERS/Adlan Khasanov

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Serb policemen walk in a line on the road near village of Djordjevac, south from the capital Belgrade on May 24, 2001. Yugoslav forces moved back into the last piece of a buffer zone around Kosovo on Thursday, meeting virtually no resistance from ethnic Albanian guerrillas based there but moving slowly because of mines. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

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An American NATO-led peacekeeper looks through binoculars the re-entry of Yugoslav security forces in the Serbian village of Muhovac in Sector B of the ground safety zone from the Kosovo side May 24 2001. Some 4,000 Yugoslav troops and special police are to enter the zone. REUTERS/Hazir Reka

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Ridvan Qazimi known as commander Lleshi salutes in the first anniversary ceremony of guerrilla group in their stronghold village of Dobrosin in this January 26, 2001 file photo. Lleshi was reported killed near the Serbian village of Veliki Trnovac on Thursday, May 24 2001. Local ethnic Albanians accuse Serb forces of killing Qazimi, while Yugoslav officials deny it. Qazimi was head of the Albanian negotiation team who broke the deal with Serbs to "demobilize, demilitarize and disband" the guerrilla groups which operated in Southern Serbia. REUTERS/Hazir Reka

ROBERTSON: NO PLACE FOR NLA IN THE POLITICAL PROCESS.

MIA

NATO Secretary General George Robertson most strongly condemned the recent actions of the extremist groups in Macedonia - particular their continued presence in several occupied villages and their attacks on Macedonian security forces.

"Their actions are imposing grave risk and hardship on the very people whose rights they claim to support. The regrettable casualties and damage caused by their conflict with government forces is the direct result of their unjustified occupation of towns and villages in the north of Macedonia" Robertson said.

The first man of the Alliance clearly pointed out that Macedonia is an established and well functioning democracy.

"Macedonia recently formed a grand coalition involving the major ethnic Albanian political parties. This coalition is engaged in a broad-based effort to seek democratic solutions to the country's problems. I support these efforts and urge the Government to continue to find ways of addressing the legitimate concerns of its public - Slav, Albanian and other - through democratic political means. There is no justification - none - for any citizens of this nation to take up arms against the Government" Robertson pointed out.

According to Robertson, the future of the nation can only be decided by democratically elected individuals, within the framework of peaceful political process.

"The international community will only work with these legitimate political representatives - not with armed extremists. The men of violence, such as the leaders of the so-called NLA, have no place in this process. They have no democratic legitimacy and thus no place at the negotiating table. They cannot achieve with the bullet what can only be addressed through the ballot," Robertson said.

He strongly urged those who are practising violence to demilitarise and hand over their weapons. According to him, the major demilitarisation and peaceful process now unfolding in southern Serbia stands out as a clear example that the path of violence has no future.

"There can be no military solution the problems in the region. I also urge the ethnic Albanian diaspora who may be financing and supporting the men of violence to cease their fundraising and instead embrace and support the democratic political process" Robertson said.

"I urge the Macedonian Government to continue to exercise military restraint and minimise civilian casualties as it seeks to contain the crisis. From all my contacts with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and the members of the national unity Government, i have no doubt of their resolve to take the necessary steps needed to assure a just and stable future for al of their citizens. They have my full support" Robertson said.

EU PRESIDENCY: THERE WILL BE NO NEGOTIATIONS WITH NLA.

MIA

"Those people that foster illusions that the so-called NLA has any support of the international community are completely wrong" the Presidency of the European Union said Thursday, on behalf of the countries members of the EU, in the statement forwarded through the British Embassy in Macedonia. The position of the EU presidency is that the agreement of PDP, DPA, and NLA is completely unacceptable out of many reasons.

"The EU and its member countries have already made clear the fact that there is no place for the NLA and its political representatives at the negotiating table. Macedonia is a country of parliamentary democracy where all citizens are presented through legitimately elected representatives. It is in the interest of those people who cast their votes for the legitimate political representatives to participate in the negotiations. It is utterly unacceptable to allow the terrorists to have the right to veto the negotiations," the statement says.

The second reason due to which the platform in the document is unacceptable to the EU is the fact that "all of the legitimate political parties agreed on the agenda of the dialogue, including the civil society issue".

"That is the European way. What appears to be a proposal for municipal and ethnically based armies is also fundamentally unacceptable. And so is the call for all members of the so-called NLA to be integrated into state structures. Those who planned and directed this terrorist campaign cannot expect to be welcomed into state structures" the statement goes on.

The Presidency's opinion is that there is no commitment by the so-called NLA for immediate withdrawal and disarmament. According to the EU this is what is needed for peace in Macedonia to be restored and maintained, because if they do not withdraw the international community can only conclude that they are not interested in political progress.

"The European Union and its member states have consistently supported the intensified political dialogue. But until the PDP and DPA provide credible assurances that they will negotiate on behalf of their voters, and not on behalf of those who commit terrorist acts, it cannot be expected that the dialogue is likely to give the results for which we all hope. We can only guess at the pressures that may have led representatives of the PDP and DPA to sign this document. But we call on the two parties to renounce the document in a way which shows no ambiguity".

"The restraint and patience of the Macedonian Government has shown its determination to solve the problem peacefully. The Macedonian Government has the right to take proportionate action to defend its territory and its citizens. It is the so-called NLA who have put civilian lives at risk, and deliberately kept them at risk. We believe that all Macedonian citizens will show equal restraint in face of these provocations. The so-called NLA is challenging the rule of law. They should not be given victory," the statement says.

"Let us repeat to the so-called NLA: there is no place for you at the negotiating table. If you ever had any doubt about the messages from the international community, you should have no doubts now. And the fundamental message is simple. Go. Now!" the EU Presidency's statement points out at the end.

SPOKESMAN MILOSOSKI: MASKS HAVE FALLEN.

MIA

Macedonian Government's spokesman Antonio Milososki expressed his regret that "after 10 years of democracy, some political subjects still do not fully understand the democracy," after Thursday statements of DPA and PDP leaders Xhaferi and Imeri that they would not give up from the platform signed with the self proclaimed leader of the so-called National Liberation Army Ali Ahmeti.

"It is sad that the man that calls upon the relevancy of the international community spitted in the face of the international community," Milososki stressed.

"The Macedonian Government will demand serious explanation and examination of this position, although the masks have fallen," Milososki said.

According to him it is obvious "who stood behind the peace and the international community and who gives chance to the violence and violation of the borders in the region."

"We can pose the question whether the people in Kosovo are happy today when there are no Serbs in that region. If they are not, than the Macedonian citizens will not be happy as well if they experience the war. The Albanian leaders should be aware of their actions and of the consequences that will impact the region and their voters," Macedonian Government's spokesman Antonio Milososki stated for MIA.

Macedonian government could collapse.

ITN

The emergency government in Macedonia was threatened by collapse as coalition partners expressed outrage over a secret peace deal with ethnic Albanian rebels. There have been major advances by army units fighting the rebels in the northern highlands and the village stronghold of Vaksince has been taken.

A related conflict in neighbouring Serbia looked to be at and end as Yugoslav army troops moved into the last stronghold of ethnic Albanian rebels in a strip of land surrounding Kosovo without major resistance. The so-called buffer zone around Kosovo was set up in mid-1999, when Nato and the United Nations moved into the Serbian province. Nato has allowed Yugoslav army troops to move back into the zone to squeeze out the rebels.

Leaders of Slavic parties who share an emergency coalition government with ethnic Albanian parties expressed outrage that officials of their coalition partners had secretly negotiated a deal with a rebel commander. Under the deal, the rebels agreed to stop fighting in exchange for amnesty guarantees by the ethnic Albanian coalition partners. The deal also gives the rebels the right to veto political decisions about ethnic Albanian rights.

The government is strongly against any negotiations with the rebels and rejects inclusion of them in the political process - stances fully supported by the United States, the European Union and other Macedonian allies. President Boris Trajkovski urged the ethnic Albanian party leaders involved in the deal to distance themselves from it, declaring: "If they don't do that, it will be impossible for us to work together."

But ethnic Albanian political leaders involved suggested their parties had done nothing wrong in negotiating with the rebel National Liberation Army. "The government was encouraging us to approach the National Liberation Army and we did it for peace," said Imer Imeri of the Party for Democratic Progress. Arben Xhaferi of the Democratic Party of Albanians refused to renounce the deal but said his party had "never acted behind the government's back."

Adding to government outrage was the role allegedly played by Robert Frowick, a former US diplomat now seconded as a senior envoy to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Diplomats and government officials said Mr Frowick mediated the deal but he refused to comment and later left for Bucharest.

A Macedonian government official said Mr Frowick, a special envoy to the region, was told "that his services are no longer needed in Macedonia." The European Union said the rebels had "no place at the negotiating table." Nato Secretary General Lord Robertson condemned the deal in similar language.

Deal Pushes Macedonia Into Crisis.

AP

By ALEKSANDAR VASOVIC, Associated Press Writer

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) - A secret peace deal with ethnic Albanian rebels mediated by a senior Western diplomat plunged Macedonia deeper into crisis Thursday, outraging Slavic leaders and drawing U.S. condemnation for giving legitimacy to the insurgents.

On the battlefield, government spokesmen reported major advances by army units fighting the rebels in the northern highlands, including the taking of their village stronghold of Vaksince.

The peace deal, confirmed by diplomats and politicians, was secretly negotiated this week between senior officials of the ethnic Albanian parties in Macedonia's emergency government and rebel commanders.

It provided that the rebels would agree to stop fighting in exchange for amnesty guarantees by the ethnic Albanian coalition partners. The rebels would also get the power to veto political decisions about ethnic Albanian rights.

Leaders of Slavic parties in the coalition government expressed outrage that their coalition partners had secretly negotiated with the rebels.

President Boris Trajkovski urged the ethnic Albanian party leaders involved in the deal to distance themselves from it, declaring: ``If they don't do that, it will be impossible for us to work together.''

The government opposes negotiations with the rebels and rejects including them in the political process - stances supported by the United States, the European Union and other Macedonian allies opposed to investing the rebels with legitimacy.

But Imer Imeri, head of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity, suggested his party had dealt with the rebel National Liberation Army with government approval.

``The government was encouraging us to approach the NLA and we did it for peace,'' he said. ``Peace is very near.''

Arben Xhaferi of the Democratic Party of Albanians refused to renounce the deal but said his party had ``never acted behind the government's back,'' adding his group did not seek to leave the governing coalition.

Adding to government outrage was the role attributed to Robert Frowick, a former U.S. career diplomat and now a senior envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Diplomats and government officials said Frowick mediated the peace deal.

OSCE representative Carlo Ungaro said in Skopje that Frowick had been ``acting on his own.''

Frowick refused to comment, but an OSCE official in Vienna who spoke on condition of anonymity said his services generated discord in Skopje. Frowick later left for Romania, officially to report to the country's foreign minister, who is also OSCE chairman.

A U.S. Embassy statement condemned the deal as a ``totally unacceptable ... effort to bring this insurgent group into the state structures.''

``There should be no accommodations made for violence or violent groups,'' said the statement.

The European Union said the rebels had ``no place at the negotiating table. NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson condemned the deal in similar language.

In fighting, three tanks and an armored personnel carrier moved across hills overlooking Vaksince. Special police teams with loudspeakers moved into the outskirts of the village, urging rebels to surrender.

``We are satisfied with our results so far,'' Interior Minister Ljuben Boskoski said.

Col. Blagoja Markovski said the army had started a major offensive against 11 villages in the north.

Helicopter gunships strafed Vaksince and neighboring Slupcane and Lojane. A rebel leader known as Commander Sokoli said shelling in Slupcane had killed seven civilians, including six members of one family.

Fighting erupted in February. The guerrillas say they want more rights for ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, who make up as much as a third of the 2 million population.

The government accuses them of trying to grab land and unify it with neighboring Kosovo, which is also dominated by ethnic Albanians.

Split Macedonia Warns No Mercy for Albanian Rebels.

Reuters

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia's emergency coalition of Slavs and ethnic Albanians was in deep crisis Friday and an army offensive to crush Albanian guerrillas was far from complete, with civilians still trapped in the firing line.

The country appeared close to the brink of the abyss which was averted just 12 days ago when the national unity government was formed, vowing to exclude the self-styled National Liberation Army and its self-appointed mission to ``protect'' Albanians.

An ethnic political breach in the 10-year-old republic of two million would raise the spectre of the sort of civil war that erupted in Bosnia in 1992, only now with volatile Kosovo and 36,000 NATO troops next door.

The Red Cross was seeking access to shelled villages where the rebels said at least seven civilians had been killed by Macedonian army shelling when government forces launched a determined offensive to end three weeks of fighting.

``The situation suggests only one thing: that the Macedonian security forces must defend the country's territories with no mercy,'' said the Macedonian Slav prime minister, Ljubco Georgievski.

Defying across-the-board foreign condemnation of a ``peace agreement'' sealed in secret talks with the guerrillas, the leaders of Macedonia's two main ethnic Albanian parties rejected demands to renounce the pact.

The Western diplomat who helped engineer it, American Robert Frowick of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), left the country.

``It's good that he has gone,'' said Georgievski.

The European Union, NATO and the United States all issued strong statements leaving no doubt that they wholly rejected any deal that would lend political legitimacy to the guerrillas.

The OSCE followed suit, leaving Frowick in diplomatic limbo.

SERBIAN SIGH OF RELIEF

The best news of the day came from nearby southern Serbia, where 4,000 Yugoslav troops took control of guerrilla-vacated territory without a struggle, to the relief of NATO peacekeepers who handed over the Kosovo buffer zone.

Ethnic Albanian rebels there agreed this week to disarm and disband, ending a 16-month insurgency that had claimed over 30 lives. Unconfirmed reports, however, said some tried to migrate into northeastern Albanian Thursday to join up with the NLA.

Apparently uninvited, the NLA guerrillas occupied a cluster of 10 Macedonian villages and hamlets at the start of the month, strung out in an arc on the slopes of mountains bordering southern Serbia and Kosovo.

Thousands of ethnic Albanian civilians stayed on in their homes, held as ``human shields'' according to the Macedonian government. But some were doubtless in fear of leaving their communities, and some were in sympathy with the rebels.

Women, children and old men have hunkered in basements during three weeks of often heavy army shelling. But Thursday morning saw the start of a determined government offensive to drive the insurgents out, come what may.

Tanks moved in and the army said it had succeeded in cutting through guerrilla lines, surrounding several villages. Groups of frightened civilians were escorted out by police, but some fled into southern Serbia.

Resisting pressure from the United States, Macedonia's two ethnic Albanian leaders, Arben Xhaferi and Imer Imeri, emerged from crisis talks at the U.S. embassy in Skopje denying they were legitimizing violence.

But Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski warned that he and the majority Slav parties could not continue to work with them unless they tore up the NLA-approved peace document.

Guerrilla officers reached by mobile telephone said their forces were holding out. They had no orders to withdraw.

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