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Rebels, ideas clash in Macedonia

Renewed fighting comes after unity goverment formed

Rebel village
Smoke billows from Vakcince, a rebel stronghold and focal point of a recent attack on Macedonian forces  

May 9, 2001
Web posted at: 5:08 PM EDT (2108 GMT)


SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Continued fighting between Macedonian troops and ethnic Albanian rebels has left hundreds of civilians trapped in their houses and spurred thousands more to flee to neighboring Kosovo for refuge.

Macedonian forces fired into several rebel-held villages in the country's northeastern section, moments after a five-hour ceasefire issued to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone expired on Wednesday.

"There are an estimated 26,000 civilians living in the area and only a few thousand have managed to get out during the last seven days of fighting," journalist Juliette Terzieff told CNN.

soldier Macedonia: Next Balkan powderkeg?

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Journalist, Juliette Terzieff: Fighting resumes and thousands flee

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Government coalition stands firm

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From Holt, Rinehart and Winston: Conflict in the Balkans
An eye on Macedonia's political parties

"As soon as the deadline expired at 10 a.m. local time, Macedonian forces in the area released a barrage of tank fire, machine guns and artillery towards rebel positions."

Macedonia map
Kosovo, surrounded by Serbia, Albania and Macedonia, has been home to ethnic conflict for centuries  

The attacks came hours after Macedonia's main ruling and opposition parties ended marathon talks and agreed to form a coalition government -- one that included the chief ethnic Albanian group, the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP). But the PDP said it needed more time to consider the plan, which had the backing of the European Union and NATO.

"We have not taken a decision yet," Naser Ziberia, head of the PDP parliamentary group, said Tuesday prior to consultations within the party and with the international community. "The priority for us is how to stop the war."

Power struggle begets violence

Macedonia became independent in 1991, the only republic to break bloodlessly from Yugoslavia. The nation was a refuge for Kosovars, many of them ethnic Albanian, driven out of their homes by violence in the 1990s, as well as a staging point for NATO-led KFOR troops for their return in 1999.

Ethnic Albanians had difficulty getting and keeping jobs in Macedonia in the 1990s. Estimates put the group's unemployment rate at 60 percent -- twice as high as the national rate -- because of discrimination, according to ethnic Albanian leaders.

But those who moved outside the country ended up pumping money into the ethnic Albanian community, which makes up around 25 percent of the total Macedonian population, and giving it more political and economic clout. In recent months, Skopje has taken steps to provide more rights guarantees and better opportunities for ethnic Albanians.

At the same time, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski has promised not to negotiate with rebels, whom the central government calls terrorists, and says ethnic Albanians must seek reform through "ballots not bullets."

Leaders shake
NATO secretary general George Robertson, center, and the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, right, have urged Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski not to declare a state of war  

International community rails against rebels

The international community, including the European Union and nation of Albania, has denounced ethnic Albanian rebels' recent actions in Macedonia, Kosovo and southern Serbia.

Earlier this week, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson called them "a bunch of murderous thugs whose objective is to destroy a democratic Macedonia and who are using civilians as human shields."

"A downward spiral of violence into another Balkans bloodbath would produce only misery."

But while it has called for an end to the warfare, especially with civilians in danger, the PDP is not seen as a political arm of the rebels group, which often calls itself the "National Liberation Army." Experts say they are a byproduct of the former Kosovo Liberation Army, reeling after the United Nations handed over a long-time buffer zone to Serbia and ethnic Albanians were routed in recent Kosovar elections.

Trajkovski has threatened to officially declare war on the rebels, giving him additional powers over heavily ethnic Albanian areas. But with pressure from with international leaders and PDP warnings a formal declaration could draw more ethnic Albanians into the conflict, Macedonia backed away from the statement this week.

A humanitarian crisis

Besides the political and military entanglements, the fighting in Macedonia has spawned a major humanitarian crisis. NATO and Skopje accuse rebels of putting innocent civilians in harm's way to prevent attacks.

Macedonia military
The only republic to become independent from Yugoslavia without bloodshed, Macedonia's military has been busy recently fighting ethnic Albanian rebels  

A team of the International Committee of the Red Cross has been allowed to deliver humanitarian aid to largely ethnic Albanian villages of Vakcince and Slupcane, rebel strongholds under attack by Macedonian forces. The group expressed concern over "hundreds of civilians" hiding in basements and described their situation as "precarious."

Some were unable to leave because of guerrilla intimidation, others because they want to stay or they are afraid of the army, a senior diplomat for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe told Reuters.

Nearly 7,000 ethnic Albanians have gone to Kosovo to escape the fighting, the UNHCR refugee agency said.

Skopje has pledged to keep shelling rebels, promising more attacks and no direct negotiations. But while some nations, like Russia, urge international action against the rebels, others have urged restraint.

"We strongly condemn the terrorist acts of the Albanian extremists," said Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, whose country holds the EU presidency.

"We also urged the Macedonian government not to fall into the trap of provocations, which is what they are."



an outpouring of many things all at once



to frighten; to compel or deter by using threats



incitement, rousing

Macedonia unity deal hits snag
May 8, 2001
Clashing agendas in 'unity' government
May 8, 2001
Macedonia shells rebel positions
May 7, 2001
Macedonia backs away from war
May 7, 2001
Solana bids to avert Macedonia war
May 6, 2001
Yugoslavia continues Kosovo transformation
April 25, 2001
Situation defused -- for now
March 12, 2001
Security tightened on Kosovo border
March 8, 2001

Government of the Republic of Macedonia
European Union
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

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