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The BBC's Samantha Simmonds
"Hundreds of Albanians have fled their homes"
 real 56k

The BBC's Paul Wood
"There is continuous intermittent fighting"
 real 56k

The BBC's Nicholas Wood in Skopje
"The group has been trapped since fighting first erupted"
 real 28k

Friday, 9 March, 2001, 14:19 GMT
Fighting traps Macedonian convoy
US troops on patrol near Kosovo Macedonia border
US troops occupied a rebel base on the border
Heavy fighting in northern Macedonia has trapped a convoy of government officials and aid workers.

In continued violence, Serbian officials said that a policeman had died after a mortar attack by ethnic Albanian guerrillas on the village of Lucane in southern Serbia.

The fighting came as Nato agreed to consider a request to deploy troops along the Macedonian border with Kosovo.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim told a meeting of Nato ambassadors that the measure was needed to reduce the threat posed by the rebels.

Exchange of fire

Thirty people, including a senior general and the deputy interior minister, are stranded after coming under attack on Thursday evening from suspected Albanian rebels near the Macedonian villages of Brest and Malino.

Serb forces on border with Macedonia
Yugoslavia says it will move into the "dangerous" border zone
The group was in the area for talks with local Albanian leaders and to distribute food aid to Albanian families in the region.

At least one policeman and one guerrilla died in an hour-long exchange of fire, involving artillery and heavy mortars, which followed the ambush.

Click here to see a map of the area

Special forces have been sent into the area in an attempt to get members of the convoy out.

The Albanians, from a group called the National Liberation Army, had withdrawn two days ago from the village of Tanusevci, their stronghold in the border region, and moved back deeper inside Macedonia.

We want to prevent what can be limited, localised skirmishes becoming bigger or spilling over into the wider region

Nato chief
Lord Robertson
The BBC's Paul Wood says the guerrillas are determined to fight until the Macedonian security forces have been driven out of the area.

And in another attempt to control rebel activity, Nato military planners decided to allow Yugoslav troops back into part of the buffer zone alongside Macedonia which divides Kosovo from the rest of Serbia.

Nato Secretary-General Lord Robertson said: "We want to prevent what can be limited, localised skirmishes becoming bigger or spilling over into the wider region."

Rebel warning

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica accepted the offer to move in to what he called a "very dangerous" area, but said it highlighted the failure of Nato to secure the zone.

"This is maybe one more proof of how inefficient in all these years... K-For has been," he said.

The rebels have warned that opening the zone to Yugoslav forces will lead to a worsening of the violence.

The rebels, who want to unite parts of Serbia and Macedonia where ethnic Albanians live, have attracted strong international condemnation.

The Albanian president has described their activities as "totally unacceptable", and Macedonia - where ethnic Albanians make up nearly a third of the population - fears a major new conflict.

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See also:

08 Mar 01 | Europe
Q&A: Kosovo flare-up
06 Mar 01 | Europe
Macedonia blasts rebel base
08 Mar 01 | Europe
Analysis: Nato's Kosovo dilemma
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