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AP: Peace Plan in Jeopardy (Update 2)

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  • Stephanie Niketic
    Peace Plan in Jeopardy in Macedonia By Misha Savic Associated Press Writer Saturday, Aug. 11, 2001; 1:56 a.m. EDT SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Macedonia s feuding
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 11, 2001
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      Peace Plan in Jeopardy in Macedonia

      By Misha Savic
      Associated Press Writer
      Saturday, Aug. 11, 2001; 1:56 a.m. EDT

      SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Macedonia's feuding factions were warning of
      all-out civil war as fighting raged close to the capital, raising fresh doubts
      about the fate of a Western-brokered peace deal to be signed on
      Monday.

      Macedonia's army pounded an ethnic Albanian village with helicopter
      gunships Friday - the latest skirmish in months of fighting between
      government forces and rebels who want greater rights for the country's
      ethnic Albanian minority. The Macedonian attack came hours after a
      convoy of government trucks drove over a pair of land mines six miles
      north of the capital, Skopje, killing seven soldiers.

      Macedonia's defense ministry blamed ethnic "Albanian terrorists" for the
      mines. Ali Ahmeti, the rebels' political leader, said the rebels hadn't
      determined who planted the mines near the villages of Ljubanci and
      Ljuboten.

      The violence jeopardized the peace plan intended to end the crisis in this
      troubled Balkan country. As fighting escalated, the country's foreign
      minister pleaded with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, NATO chief
      Lord Robertson and European Union envoy Javier Solana to assist
      Macedonia at "this most dramatic moment."

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

      The peace plan would end a six-month-old insurgency that started when
      the rebels took up arms for greater rights for the ethnic Albanian minority,
      which makes up as much as one-third of Macedonia's 2 million people.

      It would grant the minority group a greater role in police, parliament and
      education. Some 3,500 NATO soldiers would oversee the disarming of
      the rebels after the rival sides fully agree on the deal and the fighting stops.

      The rebels did not directly take part in the peace talks and it remains
      unclear whether they will accept the cease-fire.

      Ahmeti told the Voice of America's Albanian-language program that the
      rebels accepted the tentative deal. But a rebel commander who goes by
      the name Sokoli, or Falcon, was gloomy about the prospects for peace.
      He told The Associated Press 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.

      President Boris Trajkovski convened a security council meeting to decide
      how to respond to the rebel attacks. He issued a statement afterward
      pledging to press on with offensive actions.

      In Skopje, meanwhile, demonstrators marched toward the U.S. Embassy
      to protest what some here see as a Western bias toward the country's
      ethnic Albanians.

      Security forces turned them away, and the protesters demonstrated in
      front of parliament instead. The mob also vented its outrage on a handful
      of ethnic Albanian-owned businesses in Skopje, ransacking and
      destroying them, Macedonian state television reported.

      Friday's fighting erupted in Ljuboten soon after the mine explosions.
      Residents of the ethnic Albanian village said at least one house was
      "leveled" and government troops had sealed off the town.

      Two helicopter gunships attacked the village, a resident said on condition
      of anonymity. Heavy detonations of mortar and artillery fire could be
      heard in the area.

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

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

      "The future of this country is in the hands of its people and the political
      leaders," said Barry Johnson, the NATO spokesman in Macedonia. "We
      stand ready to help, but preconditions must be met."

      © Copyright 2001 The Associated Press
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