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The BBC's Lucy Hockings
"The Government's dilemma sharpens day by day"
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The BBC's Jim Fish in Skopje
"This week is not the first time that blood has been shed over Tetovo"
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Nato Secretary General George Robertson
"The tightening of the borders is very important"
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Saturday, 24 March, 2001, 05:08 GMT
Bush warns Macedonia rebels
Ethnic Albanian refugees from Tetovo
Refugees are fleeing Tetovo in droves
US President George W Bush has strongly condemned the rebellion by ethnic Albanians in north-west Macedonia.

The US joins its allies and the UN in strongly condemning the violence perpetrated by a small group of extremists

President Bush
He warned that the violence was damaging the long-term interests of ethnic Albanians in the region, and called for dialogue to halt the conflict.

Earlier, European Union leaders expressed support for the Macedonian Government's military action against the militants.

Kosovo Albanian political leaders, meanwhile, urged the guerrillas to lay down their arms immediately and return home.

Rebel fighter resting alongside man-made armour plate
Rebels have threatened to attack across Macedonia
Meeting at a summit in Stockholm, EU leaders said they would sign an association agreement next month as a gesture of support.

And Nato Secretary-General George Robertson reiterated the Alliance's support for Macedonian President Boris Trajkosvski, who has repeatedly called the rebels "terrorists".

Mr Trajkovski welcomed the EU backing and said there was no question of negotiating with the guerrillas.

No apparent support

The combination of statements leaves the guerrillas with little sign of support from any quarter.

We call on the extremist groups which have taken up arms in Macedonia to lay them down immediately and to return to their homes peacefully

Kosovo Albanian leaders
There have been allegations that they receive support from neighbouring Kosovo, but the province's three most influential political leaders made clear on Friday that they do not back the rebellion.

The leaders - Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradjinaj - simultaneously called on Macedonia to show restraint and to address the grievances of ethnic Albanians living there.

The statements backing the government came as the Nato-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, K-For, reported that a number of civilians were injured by shrapnel after the Macedonian army attacked rebels in the hills above the northern town of Tetovo.

Tensions are running high around Tetovo, where the Albanian community buried a father and son gunned down by Macedonian security forces who said they had acted to prevent a grenade attack.

The dead men's friends and family say they were innocent victims and that the supposed grenade was, in fact, a mobile phone.

Risk to aid

Students held two demonstrations in the Kosovan capital, Pristina, this week in support of Macedonian Albanians and the guerrillas.

But Western leaders, including a European Union delegation that visited Pristina on Thursday, have told Kosovo's leaders they risk losing international aid and support if they help promote instability in Macedonia.

Skopje aid
More than 20,000 people have fled the fighting
Similar statements have already been issued by moderate Macedonian Albanians and by the Albanian Government in Tirana, as part of intensive European efforts to isolate the rebels.

Macedonia has repeatedly alleged that the guerrillas are getting supplies and support from Kosovo, and demanded that Nato step up border patrols in the Serbian province.

Nato has now agreed to boost its presence on Macedonia's border with Kosovo, while the United States has ordered spy planes to be deployed in the area to monitor the movement of the rebels.

The guerrillas have threatened to escalate the conflict if the Macedonian authorities reject their offer of a truce and talks.

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, says an estimated 22,000 people have left their homes in Macedonia since fighting broke out last week.

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See also:

23 Mar 01 | Europe
In pictures: Death in Tetovo
22 Mar 01 | Europe
Macedonia advances against rebels
20 Mar 01 | Europe
Nato raises Macedonian profile
23 Mar 01 | Europe
Spies in the sky over Macedonia
19 Mar 01 | Europe
Analysis: Macedonia stands alone
18 Mar 01 | Europe
Greater Albania question
20 Mar 01 | Europe
Coalition under strain
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