AFP Macedonia slides deeper into violence, threatening peace accord
Friday August 10, 10:43 PM
Macedonia slides deeper into violence, threatening peace accord
SKOPJE, Aug 10 (AFP) -
Macedonia's fragile peace process was in crisis on Friday after
seven soldiers were killed by a landmine and ethnic Albanian
rebels went on the offensive in the country's main
The international community condemned the upsurge in the
violence and urged the Balkan country to forge ahead and sign a
Military sources told AFP seven soldiers were killed and eight
others were injured on Friday when an army truck ran over a
mine on the road to Ljubanci village. Hospital sources said the
toll could be higher.
The new deaths came after intensive fighting took place overnight
in the troubled former Yugoslav country, with renewed clashes
between rebels of the National Liberation Army and government
forces threatening to scupper the signing of an
internationally-mediated peace agreement scheduled for
Rebels pounded army and police checkpoints around Tetovo, as
they sought to make headway in the country's main
ethnic-Albanian populated city, while Macedonian forces
returned fire near the villages of Tearce and Neprosteno.
An AFP correspondent in the town reported a lull in the fighting
during the day. The streets of the town were largely empty, after
Macedonian helicopters and Sukhoi fighter jets had earlier
circled over the Tetovo skies.
Rebels control some of the suburbs around Tetovo and are trying
to push into parts of the city.
Washington's envoy to Macedonia James Pardew called for a
return to the July 5 ceasefire and condemned the violence as
"extremely damaging to the peace process."
"We are very hopeful that the political agreement which is critical
to the deployment of NATO forces can be signed on Monday in
Skopje," he said in Sofia.
But the EU's chief envoy, Francois Leotard, was more cautious,
saying that while he believed the accord would be signed, "we
have often been disappointed."
"I believe the signing will go ahead ... I cannot for a moment
imagine that there will be a return to violence instead of a peace
deal," Leotard told French Radio International (RFI) on Friday.
Meanwhile, Macedonians in the southern town of Prilep buried
10 soldiers killed in an ambush of an army convoy on
Wednesday, in the worst single attack by ethnic Albanian rebels
since they launched an insurgency six months ago.
Around 400 people attended the funeral while thousands
gathered in the town centre to mourn the dead.
A little-known guerrilla group, the Albanian National Army
(ANA), separately issued a statement from Kosovo, saying it
opposed the peace deal and claiming responsibility for the
ambush that killed the 10 soldiers.
"The accord which makes Albanians remain under the authority
of Macedonian Slavs should not be signed," the statement said.
NATO's envoy to Macedonia warned against seeking a military
solution to the crisis and urged a return to the ceasefire.
"We urge both parties to stick to their commitment of July 5 and
to respect the ceasefire with immediate effect. The political
dialogue must not be endangered now that a settlement is so
near," said Major Barry Johson.
The guerrillas say they are fighting for the rights of Macedonia's
ethnic Albanian minority, who make up about one-third of the
population of Macedonia.
Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders on Wednesday
initialed an agreement to end the conflict, after nearly two weeks
of negotiations in the southern lakeside resort of Ohrid. Western
envoys said the deal should be formally signed on Monday.
The peace agreement, worked out under intense pressure from
US and European mediators, calls for use of Albanian as an
official language, police reforms in Albanian areas and the
deployment of 3,500 NATO troops to disarm rebels of the
rebels' self-styled National Liberation Army (NLA).