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Monday, 19 March, 2001, 20:59 GMT
Analysis: Casualties in the Macedonian conflict
Refugees leaving Tetovo
Refugees are trickling out
By the BBC's South East Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

As the fighting around the Macedonian city of Tetovo continues, Macedonian security forces in the area have been reinforced in an attempt to flush out the ethnic Albanian guerrillas from their positions in the hills above.

The continuing clashes between groups of ethnic Albanian guerrillas and the Macedonian security forces began with an exchange of fire on 26 February in Tanusevci on the northern stretch of Macedonia's border with Kosovo.


The shooting in Tanusevci was not, by any means the first clash between the two sides. But previous incidents were mostly isolated bomb attacks or hit-and-run raids by armed ethnic Albanians on police stations - and nothing like as intense as the current round of fighting.

Casualties

Although the latest conflict in the Balkans has aroused fears that another full-scale war could erupt in the region, the extent of the fighting up to now has been limited.

According to the Macedonian authorities, five members of their forces have been killed as a direct result of the hostilities - three soldiers who drove over a landmine and two police officers who were shot.

Macedonian women cry during a protest rally in Skopje on 18 March
Few lives have been lost, but many fear for their future

The guerrillas say they have killed 11 police officers - but they have not provided any evidence to back up either this claim or their admission that they have lost two of their fighters in battle.

Guerrilla casualties are particularly difficult to estimate because much of the fighting amounts to an exchange of fire without land being gained.

Where the Macedonian security forces have moved in - as in Tanusevci - there was an orderly withdrawal by the ethnic Albanian fighters.

Whatever the extent of the clashes, the number of reported fatalities remains relatively small.

Refugees

Meanwhile, fear of the fighting has triggered a movement of refugees - though once again the figures are difficult to substantiate.

Most of those who have fled so far have done so to avoid the fighting or to escape retaliation from the other side.

According to estimates, around 2,000 people - both ethnic Albanians and Macedonian Slavs - have fled Tetovo, many of them going to the capital, Skopje.

In Numbers
Macedonian authorities say three soldiers and two policeman have been killed
Rebels say they have killed 11 Macedonians, and wounded 18
Rebels said to have lost three but their casualties difficult to estimate
2,000 refugees have left Tetovo
1,000 refugees have arrived in Albania
Number of displaced people 5,000-10,000

Perhaps a similar number of ethnic Albanians have escaped the fighting by crossing over into neighbouring Kosovo.

And about 1,000 have so far arrived in Albania.

Altogether the number of people displaced by the fighting is likely to be somewhere between 5,000-10,000.

Most of the refugees are staying with relatives or friends and there is, as yet, no full-scale refugee crisis.

That fact, together with the limited number of casualties reported so far, holds out the hope that the fighting may be contained at a relatively low level of intensity.

If that is the case, it could even fizzle out after a while.

However, with inter-ethnic tensions on the rise and the moderate representatives of the ethnic Albanians losing influence, the danger of an escalation in the fighting cannot be ruled out until some kind of political settlement is reached.

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15 Mar 01 | Europe
In pictures: Macedonia rebellion
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