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Soldiers killed in Macedonia

Ethnic Albanian businesses have been targeted by rioters  

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Two Macedonian soldiers have been killed in clashes with ethnic Albanian rebels, a senior Macedonian government official has told Reuters.

A further soldier was captured in the fighting early on Thursday, the news agency reported.

The agency said the three men made up a border patrol which was returning from routine duty when it was ambushed near the village of Vakcince.

The village, near Kumanovo, 35 kilometres (20 miles) northeast of the capital Skopje, is on a road leading to the area where Macedonia borders Kosovo and southern Serbia.

The incident comes after ethnic Slavs went on the rampage following the deaths of eight Macedonian soldiers at the hands of ethnic Albanian rebels at the weekend.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has expressed his "deep alarm" over the rioting in Macedonia.

A curfew was imposed on the city of Bitola late on Wednesday, the scene of some of the worst of the rioting.

At least 10 shops in the ethnically-mixed city were destroyed on Tuesday, a night after dozens of buildings were damaged by young Slavs setting fire to them.

Solana said: "I am deeply alarmed by the latest episodes of ethnically motivated violence in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

"Such incidents risk disrupting the enhanced dialogue under the leadership of President Boris Trajkovski and are seriously endangering relations between the ethnic communities of the country."

The EU is concerned that simmering tensions within Macedonia could lead to a wider Balkan conflict, and Solana has led a diplomatic drive to defuse growing hostility between the country's Slavic and Albanian populations over recent months.

Macedonia's two main ruling parties, the VMRO-DPMNE party of majority Slavs and DPA, the main party of the ethnic Albanian minority, issued separate statements calling for calm.

The VMRO-DPMNE said: "The loss of human life... during the last attack by terrorist forces should not and cannot be compensated by attacking property of innocent civilians. Such activities directly contribute to further destabilisation of the country."

The Democratic Party of Albanians, the only Albanian party that has openly condemned the killings of the Macedonian troops, said: "After the latest horrifying murder of eight Macedonian soldiers, there are signs of extreme ethnic polarisation in the country."

U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday also called for an end to violence in Macedonia, and offered support to Trajkovski's efforts to find a political solution to ethnic strife there.

During a 30-minute meeting in the Oval Office, Bush told Trajkovski he was impressed with the Macedonian leader's efforts to bring about change through dialogue, a senior U.S. administration official said.

"The president stressed the importance of breaking the cycle of violence and the importance of leadership in uniting the people," the official said.

He said Trajkovski, who was accompanied in the Oval Office by ethnic Albanian deputy prime minister Bedredin Ibraim, assured Bush he was committed to stopping the violence in order to move forward with inter-ethnic talks.

Macedonia president rejects talks
May 2, 2001
Riot targets ethnic Albanians
May 1, 2001
Macedonia on alert after killings
April 29, 2001
Fighting on Macedonia-Kosovo border
February 26, 2001

U.S. State Department

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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