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The BBC's Paul Wood
"The NLA leadership intend to weiden this conflict"
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The BBC's Nick Wood
"It looks like we are having another day of shooting"
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Wednesday, 14 March, 2001, 21:27 GMT 22:27 UK
Macedonia conflict escalates

A second front has opened in the conflict between ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Macedonia and government forces, fuelling fears of a new Balkan war.

As fighting continued around villages on Macedonia's northern border with Kosovo on Wednesday, there were also armed clashes around the country's second-largest town, Tetovo.

Ethnic Albanians demonstrate in Tetovo
Show of support for the guerrillas
At the same time, thousands of ethnic Albanians demonstrated in Tetovo in support of the guerrillas, with heavy machinegun and mortar fire booming in the distance.

A hospital director in the town - the unofficial capital of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian population - said a number of policemen had been wounded.

Worst fears

Two officers were in a critical condition, he said.

Correspondents say the Tetovo demonstration was the first major show of public support for the guerrillas.

The BBC's Nick Wood in Tetovo says the clashes are the Macedonian Government's worst fears come true.

He says the authorities now recognise that the insurgents are based not only in Kosovo, but in Macedonia itself, and that the unrest could spread to other other towns.

He adds that many of Tetovo's ethnic Slavs - Macedonia's majority population - have packed their bags and are ready to leave if the fighting is renewed.
UCK rebel in Macedonia
Ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia are fighting in new areas

The demonstrators on Tetovo's main square, numbering several thousand, cheered and chanted the initials of the guerrilla group - the National Liberation Army - every time bursts of fire were heard.

Attack on convoy

Ethnic Albanians make up at least one quarter of Macedonia's two million people, dominating western regions of the country.

Macedonia's governing coalition includes representatives of one of the main ethnic Albanian parties.

They and other Albanian parties have condemned the violence, but correspondents say all are under increasing pressure to support the armed struggle.

The situation is extremely serious in Tetovo

Police spokesman
The militants say they are fighting for equal rights for the Albanian population, but are widely believed to be seeking to annex Albanian-populated areas to Kosovo, in a bid to create a "greater Albania".

Reports from Tetovo said the fighting took place in a suburb 2km (1.2 miles) north of the centre, and in nearby villages.

Serbian deployment

"The situation is extremely serious in Tetovo," said Interior Ministry spokesman Stevo Pendarovski, adding that officers had succeeded in isolating the armed rebels.
Yugoslav army's chief of staff, Lieutenant General Nebojsa Pavkovic
The Yugoslav army's chief of staff led the redeployment

Clashes were also said to be continuing around the villages of Brest and Malino Malo, not far from the border village of Tanusevci where the violence began three weeks ago.

In a move to cut off the rebels' lines of supply from Serbia, Yugoslav forces were deployed on Wednesday near the Macedonian border for the first time since the Kosovo conflict.

The deployment inside a previously demilitarised zone began at 0630 local time (0530GMT) on Wednesday, as columns of trucks and armoured personnel carriers began carrying hundreds of members of the 63rd Parachute Brigade into the territory.

International monitors

Nato and European Union observers also entered the zone to monitor a ceasefire agreed to between Belgrade and the guerrillas on Monday.

Buffer rules
Villages out of bounds
No shelling, without Nato consent
No armoured cars
No helicopters
No mines
No rocket launchers
Mortars allowed
The troops were accompanied by the Yugoslav army's chief of staff, Lieutenant General Nebojsa Pavkovic, and a senior defence ministry official, Miloran Curic.

Mr Curic said: "The action for the return of sovereignty has started."

The Kosovo buffer zone - set up in June 1999 as part of peace terms for Kosovo - was meant to reduce a threat to Nato-led peacekeepers by keeping the Yugoslav army at arm's length.

Because only lightly armed Serbian police were allowed in the zone, ethnic Albanian insurgents were able to establish control.

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