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Macedonia troops 'under attack'

Ger,man NATO soldier
NATO has decided to keep the German delegation in Macedonia for a further four months  

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Macedonian government troops say they came under attack in what the army describes as one of the most serious incidents since last year's war.

The soldiers stationed at an army watchtower near the Kosovo border came under fire from machine guns and hand-held rocket launchers, army spokesman Colonel Blagoja Markovski said on Thursday.

Ethnic Albanian rebels have been blamed for the attack which resulted in an hour-long firefight.

No injuries were reported, and the gunmen escaped to nearby mountains, Reuters news agency was told.

"This is absolutely the most serious incident in some time, because if they had hit the tower with the rockets we would have suffered great damage," the spokesman said.

The country's peace is still fragile after a six-month battle last year in which ethnic Albanians fought for greater civil rights.

A Western-brokered deal was struck under which the rebels agreed to surrender their weapons to NATO troops under Operation Essential Harvest.

In a separate move on Thursday, NATO extended the length of stay for its 700-strong force still in the country.

It has decided to keep the peace mission in Macedonia for another four months until late October, the alliance's spokesman in the Balkan country told The Associated Press news agency. It had been set to expire on June 26.

The extension was the fourth granted for the German-led mission, and was requested by Macedonia's President Boris Trajkovski. The Netherlands is expected to assume the mission command in late June.

NATO soldiers serve as security backup for a few hundred civilian peace monitors deployed by the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Another 1,300 NATO soldiers and officers serve as logistics support for the much larger NATO operation in Kosovo.


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