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Soldier killed in Macedonia clash

Pardew and Leotard
Pardew and Leotard met with Trajkovski on Tuesday  

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- European and U.S. envoys have urged Macedonia's president to redouble efforts at peace talks as the death toll from the violence rises.

A soldier was killed on Tuesday when ethnic Albanian rebels ambushed a patrol near the capital Skopje, bringing the number of soldiers killed in the insurgency to 34, an army spokesman told the Associated Press.

Army spokesman Colonel Blagoja Markovski said the most serious fighting was around the village of Radusa, 15 miles west of the capital, where the army pounded rebel positions with helicopters.

"The rebels have a stronghold there and opened mortar, sniper and gunfire on the Macedonian positions," Markovski said.

The clashes came as U.S. special adviser James Pardew and his European Union counterpart, Francois Leotard, met in Skopje with President Boris Trajkovski on Tuesday ahead of a new round of talks between Trajkovski and leaders of Macedonia's main Slav and ethnic Albanian political parties.

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Leotard said he and Pardew share the "same approach about overcoming the crisis" and had a "very good discussion" with Trajkovski.

Party leaders planned to hold a series of meetings in the next few days to try to resolve the four-month-long crisis that threatens a civil war, Leotard said.

Defence Minister Vlado Buckovski described the situation as "extremely dangerous, with the tendency to deteriorate further."

"It has come to a phase where solutions can only be reached through a political dialogue," he told Associated Press.

But Buckovski said the rebels were "growing more radical" and might scuttle peace talks.

Government troops clashed on Tuesday with ethnic Albanian rebels on the slopes of Mount Sara near the border with Kosovo, Markovski told Associated Press.

Markovski said the rebels fired machine guns at troops in the villages of Slupcane, just outside the northern city of Kumanovo, and in nearby Opaje.

There were also clashes near the rebel-held village of Nikustak, where the army said the rebels were "massing, regrouping and taking up new positions."

The rebels launched their rebellion in February, demanding constitutional changes to guarantee ethnic Albanians equal status with the Slavic majority.

The government says that eventually would lead to a partition of the country.

Meanwhile, the U.N. refugee agency said the flow of refugees from Macedonia had slowed dramatically -- at least for the time being -- and that some who fled have returned in recent days.

Over the weekend 500 people crossed the border into Kosovo, and by Monday the number of crossings was down to 56, said Ron Redmond, chief spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

About 3,500 refugees returned to Macedonia over the weekend, he said, citing "renewed peace talks and reports that reservists were disarming in Skopje."

• European Union
• U.S. Department of State
• Macedonian government

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