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The BBC's Ben Brown
"This latest Balkans war seems to be over"
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Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou
"This terrorist group... has tried to create an image of fighting between different ethnic groups, which is not so"
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The BBC's Peter Biles in Tetovo
"The Macedonian government is being encouraged to engage in dialogue with moderate Albanian leaders"
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Tuesday, 27 March, 2001, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
EU call for dialogue in Macedonia
Javier Solana (centre) meets ethnic Albanian mayor Ismail Murtezan
Mr Solana voices EU support during a visit to Tetovo
European Union foreign and security policy chief, Javier Solana, has called on ethnic Albanians in Macedonia to start talking to the government.

"We think that the fighting is over and that it is time for dialogue," said Mr Solana, who is on a visit to the country.

We would be making a terrible mistake to equate the ethnic Albanian people with a few rebels

Javaier Solana
Mr Solana made the appeal during a high-profile visit to the town of Tetovo, where the government has been conducting an apparently successful military operation against the guerrillas.

"An important message to the rebels is that the best thing they can do is lay down their weapons and start a political life," he said.

Ethnic Albanian teacher Izair Halili walks to his burned property in Gajre
A villager in Gajre approaches the charred remnants of his home
The EU and Nato are now urging the Macedonian Government to turn its attention to political dialogue and addressing the grievances of the Albanian minority.

During his visit, Mr Solana held talks with Arben Xhaferi, leader of Macedonia's moderate Albanian party, the Democratic Party of Albanians.

He later walked through the town square arm-in-arm with Mayor Ismail Murtezan.

Speaking to the BBC after his visit, Mr Solana said it had given him the chance to express the EU's support for all communities in Macedonia.

The overwhelming majority of the Albanian population did not want violence, but a united community where everyone could feel comfortable, he said.

Macedonian army
Manpower: 17,000
98 battle tanks
14 aircraft
5 helicopters, including two Soviet-designed gunships
50 air defence guns
30 surface-to-air missiles
Mortars and heavy artillery
112 armed vehicles, most in poor condition
Shortage of basic supplies
Estimates from International Institute for Strategic Studies
"We would be making a terrible mistake to equate the ethnic Albanian people with a few rebels."

The BBC's Peter Biles, who is in Tetovo, says the international community, fearful of a wider Balkan conflict, is doing everything it can to help Macedonia.

On Monday, Nato Secretary-General George Robertson commended the Macedonian Government for driving ethnic Albanian guerrillas out of territory around the northern city of Tetovo.

Lord Robertson said the government had shown restraint and firmness in forcing the rebels into Kosovo.

Nato patrols

Nato is strengthening patrols on the Kosovo side of the border to prevent future infiltrations by guerrillas, who earlier abandoned their headquarters in the hills above Tetovo.

Anti-Macedonia demonstration in Pristina, Kosovo on Monday
Macedonia's offensive has provoked anger among other ethnic Albanians
"I want to be blunt," Lord Robertson said. "It is a united Macedonia or another Balkan bloodbath."

But US Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed reservations about the situation.

Speaking in Washington, he renewed support for the Macedonian Government but said he did not believe the fighting was "anywhere near over".

The Macedonian Government says the guerrillas have been driven across the border into Kosovo and they will now become the problem of the K-For Nato-led peacekeeping force there.

Albanian rebels
Manpower: 300-700
Light anti-tank weapons
Kalashnikov rifles
Chinese-made machine guns
Sniper rifles and mortars
However, BBC correspondents say that while the operation has been considered a success inside Macedonia, the intensive bombardment of the rebel-held areas raised international concern about the military's use of force.

It has also intensified regional reaction. In Pristina, capital of neighbouring neighbouring Kosovo, about 10,000 people rallied to support the rebels.

Albanian withdrawal

Reporters who reached the headquarters of the National Liberation Army (NLA) rebels, in the mountain village of Selce, found it deserted.

Ethnic Albanians cross into southern Kosovo
The violence has driven some ethnic Albanian families from their homes
The AFP news agency reported from the scene that the rebels appeared to have left in a hurry, abandoning weapons including rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns by the road side.

But there were no signs of Macedonian troops in the village.

Meanwhile, hundreds of refugees fled across the border into Kosovo after a 12-hour night trek through snow-covered mountain passes. Some said they had come under fire.

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See also:

26 Mar 01 | Europe
Military forces in Macedonia
26 Mar 01 | Europe
Yugoslavia beefs up buffer force
23 Mar 01 | Europe
In pictures: Death in Tetovo
25 Mar 01 | Europe
The Tetovo advance
18 Mar 01 | Europe
Greater Albania question
26 Mar 01 | UK Politics
UK troops to boost Macedonian security
27 Mar 01 | Europe
Kosovo's scars live on
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