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Macedonia truce in jeopardy

Trajovski
President Boris Trajovski's government forces have clashed with the rebels since February  


TETOVO, Macedonia -- Fighting between Macedonian government forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas continued into a second successive day on Monday.

Sniper shots rang through the main square of Tetovo, the main Albanian town in the former Yugoslav republic, and close-range gunfire raged in the eastern district of Drenovec, where a football stadium separates battle lines.

The violence strains a fragile 18-day cease-fire towards breaking point just a day after it was patched back together after heavy fighting in Tetovo over the weekend.

"Today we have real war in Tetovo," a witness told Reuters news agency, after two hours of heavy fighting in the hills.

The Macedonian Defence Ministry said its forces had been responding to attacks by National Liberation Army rebels.

"Most of our positions are under attack," said spokesman Marjan Gjurovski. "We are responding to the fire and shooting continues."

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

Journalist Juliette Terzieff told CNN: "They have been fighting for more than five hours now and it doesn't show any signs of abating."

The cease-fire breach comes days after ethnic Albanian leaders in Macedonia signalled their willingness to salvage peace talks that had broken down.

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

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.

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

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






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