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The BBC's Paul Wood
"There was a three-hour gun-battle involving heavy weapons and intense exchanges of machine-gun fire"
 real 28k

Balkans analyst, Misha Glenny
"There's always been tremendous potential for Macedonia to break up internally"
 real 28k

Balkan expert and writer, Julian Pettifer
"Some local newspapers here today are talking about the next Balkan war"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 03:36 GMT
Macedonia blasts rebel base
Macedonian troops fire to honour a dead colleague
Macedonian troops fire to honour a dead colleague
Macedonia has stepped up its campaign against ethnic-Albanian separatists operating near the country's border with Kosovo.

Its forces have launched a heavy assault on one of main rebel bases in the village of Tanusevci. There are signs that separatists' positions are close to collapse.

The authorities have also begun to mobilise police and army reservists, after warnings that the rebels are planning to extend their campaign to other parts of the country.

A BBC correspondent in the region says the international community appears to have given the Macedonians a free hand to deal with the rebels, whom it sees as an unrepresentative group trying to stir up ethnic hatred in one of the few former Yugoslav republics untouched by civil war.

But the Macedonian Government has called for more active measures, and criticised K-For, the Nato-led peacekeepers in Kosovo, for failing to control the separatists who are in part operating from the province.

Buffer zone

The government has been holding emergency talks and on Wednesday will seek backing at a meeting of the UN Security Council for its demand that K-For create a buffer zone along the border.

Men in distance cross open field
US troops say many ethnic-Albanian fighters have pulled back
Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim said the buffer zone would halt the supply of weapons to the rebels.

On Monday, American K-For troops spotted about eight or nine ethnic-Albanian guerrillas in uniform coming across the border, entering houses in a Kosovan village and changing into civilian clothes in an attempt to slip away.

Our correspondent says there has been a steady movement like this throughout the week and one American officer said she did not know how many of the fighters could now be left.

The guerrillas are from a new group - the National Liberation Army. They say they take their volunteers from Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority and are planning to wage a Kosovo-style guerrilla war inside Macedonia.

Escalating violence

Macedonia has warned that the escalating violence could destabilise the whole region.

About one-third of Macedonia's population is ethnic Albanian, culturally close to the Kosovo-Albanian majority in Kosovo.

The guerrillas have been using a 1km wide exclusion zone along the border to evade both the K-For peacekeepers and the Macedonian army.

Sporadic fighting has been reported for the past two weeks between Macedonian forces and the guerrillas.

The rebels have been in Tanusevci for weeks and in parts of the southern Serbian buffer zone next to Kosovo for months.

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See also:

27 Feb 01 | Europe
Clashes empty Macedonia villages
27 Feb 01 | Europe
Analysis: Stirrings of war?
23 Feb 01 | Europe
South Serbia alarm divides summit
02 Feb 01 | Europe
Guerrillas threaten fragile peace
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