Solana urges peace in Macedonia
SKOPJE, Macedonia -- European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has met with Macedonian leaders in a bid to promote peace amid renewed attacks on rebels.
Solana urged the political leaders to agree to a peace plan after the government ignored rebel calls for a cease-fire on Friday, Reuters reported.
His call came as the Macedonian army hit ethnic Albanian rebel positions northeast of the capital Skopje with artillery fire on Saturday.
The army attacked areas around the villages of Slupcane and Orizari northeast of the capital, according to Reuters.
Police sources told Reuters there was also sporadic shooting in other areas overnight, especially in villages near the northwestern city of Tetovo -- where five Macedonian soldiers were killed by rebels on Tuesday.
Solana met leaders of the main Macedonian and Albanian political parties in parliament in Skopje on Saturday as part of an EU drive to defuse the Balkan crisis.
Solana wants politicians in the unity government, formed in May, to stop wrangling and rally behind a Trajkovski's three-point plan outlined on Friday.
He said the plan addressed key issues of security, politics and disarmament.
Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski has pledged to defeat the rebels politically and militarily, amid signs persistent violence in the Balkan country could spread and move closer to its capital.
He told deputies in parliament on Friday his government would place the army and police under a single command in order to speed up "the neutralizing of the terrorists."
He also said he would focus on dialogue with ethnic Albanian political leaders in hopes of solving the crisis.
Prime minister Ljubco Georgievski has called for the destruction of the rebels. "Macedonia must mercilessly confront the terrorists," he was reported by the Associated Press as saying.
Despite an offer of a unilateral cease-fire by the separatists, government forces used helicopter gunships and heavy artillery on Friday to attack a string of villages held by the rebels in the north-east of the country.
The rebels' surprise call for a truce has been seen in some quarters as a cynical attempt to prevent retaliatory action for the killing of five government soldiers earlier in the week.
NATO's Secretary-General George Robertson said: "The call for a cease-fire may be seen by some as an olive branch, but of course it follows a fairly murderous attack a few days ago.
"So when you do that and call for a cease-fire, then the response to that is: Put down your arms permanently."
Armed conflict broke out in February with the rebels saying they want more rights for ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, where they make up as much as a third of the two million population.
The government accuses them of trying to grab land and unify it with Kosovo, which is also dominated by ethnic Albanians.
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