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Macedonia ceasefire broken

Macedonian soldiers have clashed with ethnic Albanian rebels since February  

TETOVO, Macedonia -- Heavy fighting has broken out between Macedonian government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels, breaking a 17-day ceasefire.

The Macedonian Ministry of Defence confirmed the clashes were taking place on Sunday, telling Reuters government forces had come under attack by rebels in villages just above Tetovo -- the main Albanian town in the former Yugoslav republic.

Marjan Gjurovski said: "Because the positions of the Macedonian security forces were endangered and their lives threatened and because the rebels have broken the ceasefire we responded appropriately."

Tetovo residents said heavy machine gun fire and small arms weapons fire had broken out just before 11 a.m. (0900 GMT).

"Its going on and its getting worse and worse," a local journalist reported. The ceasefire breach comes days after ethnic Albanian leaders in Macedonia signaled their willingness to salvage peace talks that had broken down.

Macedonia's largest political party earlier denounced a Western-backed proposal it said made too many concessions to the country's Albanian minority.

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U.S. envoy James Pardew, who is mediating the talks along with his European Union counterpart, Francois Leotard, had said the volatile Tetovo area was their main concern.

The town was rocked by a month of heavy fighting in March, until security forces pushed rebels deep into the mountains.

But the rebels have slowly pushed their way back to the outskirts of Tetovo, taking over the small villages that dot the hillsides as part of a broader campaign that has won them control of a swathe of northern and western Macedonia.

The rebels say their five-month campaign of violence, which has raised fears of all-out civil war, seeks to end discrimination against Albanians.

But the Macedonian majority accuses the rebels of trying to seize ground and split the state.

• Macedonian Government

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