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KFOR blamed for rebel crossings

Grieving mother
A mother mourns her son, one of eight soldiers killed when their vehicle drove over a landmine  


SKOPJE, Macedonia -- The Macedonian government criticised NATO for allowing 600 ethnic Albanian rebels cross into its territory from neighbouring Kosovo, reports have said.

The flow of rebels, most of them soldiers according to Macedonian officials, during the past 24 hours coincides with the six-month long conflict's fiercest fighting in the north of the former Yugoslav republic around Radusa and Tetovo.

Macedonia filed a protest with KFOR -- NATO's force in Kosovo, assigned to guard the Kosovo-Macedonia border -- on Saturday, accusing it of letting up as hundreds of ethnic Albanian guerrillas crossed over from Kosovo.

"All of them are coming into Macedonia from the Kosovo side and the main part ... are present or former members of the Kosovo protection corps.," Government spokesman Antonio Milosovski told Reuters.

The protest added to already high tensions in Macedonia. Its second largest city, Tetovo, came under heavy guerrilla attack Saturday evening, Macedonian forces told CNN.

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Meanwhile, Macedonia spent the weekend burying many of its recent dead, including 10 soldiers killed in an ambush Wednesday and eight troops on Friday after their vehicle drove over a landmine.

Hopes a Macedonian officials and ethnic Albanian politicians will sign a Western-brokered peace deal on Monday, as scheduled, now appears slim.

CNN's Walter Rogers said: "None of it is auspicious for the peace signing. Now Macedonians are beginning to ask just how sincere the ethnic Albanians are if the agreement is signed."

Heavy fighting was reported in both Radusa and Tetovo at the end of Macedonia's bloodiest week of the six-month conflict -- a day of mourning had been announced on Saturday, the second in a week.

At least three people, including one policeman, were injured in Tetovo, Reuters reported.

The town's mayor Murtezan Ismaili, told the news agency: "There's heavy shooting around the town and in the town."

Macedonian army helicopter gunships were seen flying to Radusa in an attempt to try and rescue a police unit encircled by rebels, The Associated Press reported state television as saying.

Milosovski said that members of the Kosovo Protection Corps, a supposedly civilian successor to the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army, were firing with mortars and guns around Radusa.

The Corps was set up with Western backing in 1999 after NATO's air strikes to drive out Serb forces.

KFOR had said it has been carrying out "regular patrols," Rogers added, but it would be the first to admit it was not able to "completely cover the border."

Ethnic Albanians, who account for about a third of Macedonia's two million population, want more civil rights.

The peace deal, due to be signed on Monday, addresses many of their concerns by recognising their language in parts of the country where it is spoken by more than 20 percent of the population, and improved education and police representation.

Some diplomats say the chances of the plan sticking look slim -- an amnesty has yet to be agreed, parliament is reluctant to ratify the deal and many rebels seem confident that the army will not be able to budge them.

But Milosovski said he "strongly believed that all of our politicians are prepared to put their signatures to the peace agreement."

Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the rebel National Liberation Army, told the Albanian service of Voice of America radio that it "agrees with the agreement."






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