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Fighting rages in Macedonia

Tetovo
Smoke billows over the northern part of Tetovo following clashes on Monday  


TETOVO, Macedonia -- Fierce fighting has broken out in Macedonia as government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels battled for control of the suburbs of Tetovo.

A 12-year-old girl was killed by a mortar bomb during the clashes, which are further threatening an 18-day cease-fire in the country.

There was sniper fire and exchanges of small-arms and machine gun fire throughout the day around the town's sports stadium, where rebels had advanced on government lines.

"Today we have real war in Tetovo," a 38-year-old called Nuriman told Reuters in the eastern district of Drenovec. Tetovo's hospital director said 13 civilians had also been injured, along with five Macedonian troops.

Macedonian Defence Minister Vlado Buckovski warned the rebel National Liberation Army to withdraw from ground it has taken during the truce or face an all-out attack.

"If the terrorists do not retreat to their positions of July 5, there's no alternative but an offensive by the Macedonian security forces to restore the previous situation," he said.

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A senior police official in Tetovo, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the rebels had taken the soccer stadium and were within 50 yards of government troops trying to keep them from the city centre.

"There's ongoing shooting with very high intensity," Tetovo Mayor Murtezan Ismaili told AP. "One bullet hit my office, right next to my secretary. She's not injured."

Shells were directed at villages in the mountains above Tetovo, from which the rebels have advanced.

Reuters reported fighting along the road to the Kosovo border.

South of the area, a Macedonian soldier patrolling the mountains bordering Albania was killed in an attack blamed on the NLA.

Monday's battle in Tetovo, the second in as many days, began while U.S. and European envoys were meeting President Boris Trajkovski in the capital Skopje, 40 kilometres (25 miles) to the west.

Talks on a peace deal which would give greater civil rights to Albanians stalled last week amid Macedonian criticism.

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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