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Sunday, 25 March, 2001, 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK
The Tetovo advance
Macedonian troops attacking the hillsides above Tetovo
The troops have been inching their way up the hills
By Paul Anderson in Tetovo

It all began at daybreak when columns of Macedonian tanks and armoured vehicles shattered the morning still, tearing through the centre of Tetovo on their way to positions on the western and eastern flanks of the city.

A few Macedonians cheered and a few Albanians stared in disbelief and anger.

Then the bombardment started - sudden, ferocious and of a magnitude not seen or heard in the 12 days since fighting flared around Tetovo.

Ethnic Albanian man is passed by running Macedonian troops in Tetovo
Many Albanians remaining in Tetovo have witnessed the attacks

Smoke billowed from fires which blazed all along the hillside, as the Macedonians made direct hits on the villas and farm houses overlooking the city.

Down in the town more Macedonians and Albanians gathered in the streets to gawk at the huge explosive force unleashed by Macedonia's military.

Predictably the Albanians spoke of the justice of their cause, of the legitimate struggle of liberation warriors fighting for their rights.

'Criminals and terrorists'

Equally predictably the far smaller number of Macedonians who haven't left this predominantly Albanian city with their families, spoke of the just deserts that the rebel fighters were getting.

"They are all criminals, they are all terrorists", said one man, reflecting the government's spin on things.

Then it subsided, signalling the end of phase one - the operation to soften the ground for the deployment of infantry troops on the ground.

The Macedonian army has little experience of this sort of warfare. Its officers were schooled in Cold War battle strategy, not mountain guerrilla warfare.

Nervous troops

The advancing troops inched their way up the foothills towards the villages in rebel areas, clearly nervous at the prospect of snipers and close quarter combat with well armed rebels - who know the terrain and know how to move around it.

Who would not be?

But they were determined and backed up by tanks.

By the sound of things reaching Tetovo, they moved forward, spraying the ground ahead in front of them with machine gun fire.

In Skopje the Macedonian government initially said that the operation would take a matter of days.

Successful first day

They say that the first day was hugely successful and secured a number of villages.

But beyond the first set of hills overlooking Tetovo lie more hills and more Albanian villages and no doubt more well secured positions.

The armed forces must eliminated all before they can say that they have driven and wiped out all of the rebel forces.

So they may well be looking at weeks, if not months, rather than days.


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See also:

24 Mar 01 | Europe
Bush warns Macedonia rebels
23 Mar 01 | Europe
In pictures: Death in Tetovo
20 Mar 01 | Europe
Nato raises Macedonian profile
19 Mar 01 | Europe
Analysis: Macedonia stands alone
18 Mar 01 | Europe
Greater Albania question
24 Mar 01 | Europe
Double vision in Macedonia
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