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BBC: Peace Plan in Jeopardy (Update 1)

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  • Stephanie Niketic
    Macedonian Peace Plan in Jeopardy By Dusan Stojnovic Associated Press Writer Friday, Aug. 10, 2001; 7:38 p.m. EDT SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Warnings that Macedonia
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 11, 2001
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      Macedonian Peace Plan in Jeopardy

      By Dusan Stojnovic
      Associated Press Writer
      Friday, Aug. 10, 2001; 7:38 p.m. EDT

      SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Warnings that Macedonia is on the brink of civil
      war came from all sides Friday as army helicopter gunships pounded an
      ethnic Albanian village in retaliation for a deadly mine attack on a military
      convoy.

      The army's attack on Ljuboten, just north of the capital, Skopje, threw into
      jeopardy a tentative peace plan reached only two days before. The
      Western-brokered deal is to be signed on Monday.

      In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, NATO chief Lord
      Robertson and European Union envoy Javier Solana, Macedonia's foreign
      minister appealed for international help at "this most dramatic moment."

      "Macedonia is facing the threat of civil war," Ilinka Mitreva said, claiming
      ethnic Albanian rebels were fighting to carve off a part of the country. "We
      must not allow Macedonia to perish in flames."

      NATO ambassador Hansjorg Eiff and U.S. envoy James Pardew both
      called the situation "critical."

      Fighting escalated after a convoy of military trucks drove over two mines
      Friday about six miles north of the capital, near the villages of Ljubanci and
      Ljuboten. Seven Macedonian soldiers were killed and nine others were
      wounded when the mines exploded, the Defense Ministry said.

      A ministry statement blamed ethnic "Albanian terrorists" for planting the
      mines and said rebels fired at the convoy after they exploded.

      Ali Ahmeti, the political leader of the rebel National Liberation Army - or
      NLA - would not say whether his group planted the mines.

      "We have not verified who put those mines there, NLA or Macedonian
      government forces," Ahmeti told the Voice of America's Albanian-language
      program.

      However, Ahmeti said the rebels accepted the peace deal reached between
      Macedonian and ethnic Albanian leaders on Wednesday.

      In Skopje, angry demonstrators marched toward the U.S. Embassy in
      Skopje to protest what some Macedonians call a Western bias favoring
      ethnic Albanians.

      Security forces turned them back, and they protested in front of parliament.
      The crowd also ransacked and destroyed a handful of ethnic
      Albanian-owned businesses, Macedonian state television reported.

      In Ljuboten, villagers said at least one house was leveled and government
      troops had sealed off the town. Helicopter gunships were shelling the
      village, and hundreds of residents were hiding in basements. Mortar and
      artillery fire could be heard in Skopje.

      Elsewhere, police official said 11 rebels were killed as they attacked a
      police checkpoint early Friday near Gostivar, a predominantly ethnic
      Albanian town 30 miles southwest of Skopje. Another police source said 12
      Macedonian police reservists were later abducted by the rebels in Gostivar.
      The reports could not be independently verified.

      Government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels also traded gunfire early
      Friday outside Tetovo, Macedonia's second-largest city, the scene of heavy
      fighting on Thursday.

      President Boris Trajkovski convened his security council later Friday and
      issued a statement pledging to press on with offensive actions.

      The fighting threatened to undermine the tentative peace accord. The deal
      aims to end an insurgency that began in February, when the rebels took up
      arms and demanded greater rights for ethnic Albanians, who make up a
      third of Macedonia's population of 2 million.

      But government spokesman Antonio Milososki said that even if the
      agreement is signed as scheduled, "we will have peace on paper and war on
      the battlefield."

      "What the rebels want is war, and they will get it," he said.

      A rebel commander who calls himself Sokoli, or Falcon, said there was no
      reason for the rebels to lay down their arms when government forces were
      using helicopter gunships and artillery against them.

      "The situation is worsening and we are ready for everything," he said by
      telephone from his mountain hide-out.

      Western officials also warned the chances of a full-fledged civil war were
      growing.

      Pardew, who helped oversee the negotiations, said Friday in Bulgaria that
      the rebel attacks were a serious setback. "It is critical that this political
      agreement be signed on Monday."

      The peace plan grants the restive ethnic Albanian minority a greater role in
      police, parliament and education. Some 3,500 NATO soldiers would oversee
      the disarming of the rebels, but only after the rival sides fully agree on the
      deal and the fighting stops.

      Barry Johnson, the NATO spokesman in Macedonia, said there is only so
      much outside forces can do.

      "The future of this country is in the hands of its people and the political
      leaders."

      © Copyright 2001 The Associated Press
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