Skopje, Macedonia — Warnings that Macedonia is on the brink of civil war came from all sides Friday as army helicopter gunships pounded an ethnic Albanian village in retaliation for a deadly mine attack on a military convoy.
The army's attack on Ljuboten, just north of the capital, Skopje, threw into jeopardy a tentative peace plan reached Wednesday. The deal is to be signed on Monday.
In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, NATO chief Lord Robertson and European Union envoy Javier Solana, Macedonia's foreign minister appealed for international help.
"Macedonia is facing the threat of civil war," Ilinka Mitreva said. "We must not allow Macedonia to perish in flames."
NATO ambassador Hansjorg Eiff and U.S. envoy James Pardew both called the situation "critical."
Fighting escalated after a convoy of military trucks drove over two mines Friday about 6 miles north of the capital, near the villages of Ljubanci and Ljuboten. Seven Macedonian soldiers were killed and nine others were wounded when the mines exploded, the Defense Ministry said.
A ministry statement blamed ethnic "Albanian terrorists" for planting the mines and said rebels fired at the convoy after they exploded.
Ali Ahmeti, the political leader of the rebel National Liberation Army or NLA would not say whether his group planted the mines.
"We have not verified who put those mines there, NLA or Macedonian government forces," Ahmeti told the Voice of America's Albanian-language program.
However, Ahmeti said the rebels accepted the peace deal reached on Wednesday between Macedonian and ethnic Albanian leaders.
But government spokesman Antonio Milososki said that even if the agreement is signed as scheduled, "we will have peace on paper and war on the battlefield."
"What the rebels want is war, and they will get it," he said.