Archive for Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Rebels breach cease-fire, make advances in Macedonia

July 24, 2001


— Ethnic Albanian militants battled government forces Monday in Macedonia's second-largest city, thrusting the troubled country back to the brink of civil war just days after the collapse of high-level peace talks.

A senior police official in Tetovo, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the rebels had taken the city's soccer stadium and were within 50 yards of government troops trying to keep them from the city center.

An 11-year-old girl was killed and six members of the Macedonian security forces were wounded, government spokesman Antonio Milososki said. At least nine civilians and five policemen were wounded, one of them seriously, Macedonian television reported.

Ethnic Albanian insurgents abducted 22 Macedonian civilians in villages around Tetovo, said Col. Blagoja Markovski, a military spokesman. He confirmed the death of a soldier Monday in a separate clash near Mavrovo, about 45 miles southwest of the capital, Skopje.

The fighting, which eased at nightfall, was by far the most serious violation of a cease-fire brokered by NATO and the European Union that took effect July 5.

The militants launched their insurgency against government forces in February, saying they were fighting for greater rights and recognition for minority ethnic Albanians, who account for up to a third of Macedonia's population of 2 million. Some of the worst fighting raged in February and March in and around Tetovo.

The government contends that ethnic Albanians already enjoy enough protection under the constitution. It considers the rebels "terrorists" and accuses them of trying to carve up the country.

"The situation in Tetovo is critical, and if the terrorists do not retreat to their previous positions ... we will have no other option but to dislodge them with our offensive," Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski told reporters Monday.

"We demand that NATO secure the cease-fire, because NATO and the international community provided us with guarantees for the cease-fire," he said. "We expect NATO to ensure that the terrorists withdraw to their previous positions."

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