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The BBC's Colin Blane in Skopje
"This incident will need to be investigated and explained"
 real 56k

The BBC's Peter Biles
"The unexplained shelling of a Kosovo village has added a new and alarming dimension to the ongoing crisis"
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Friday, 30 March, 2001, 02:33 GMT 03:33 UK
Macedonia shelling probe urged
Polish soldiers treat a man wounded by Macedonian shelling in Krivenik
Polish soldiers treat a casualty of the shelling
Nato is seeking urgent clarification from the Macedonian Government after cross-border shelling killed three civilians in Kosovo.

The incident, in which between 10 and 20 people were wounded, occurred as the Macedonian army continued to mount an offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels in the border area.

One of the victims was British cameraman Kerem Lawton, who was working for Associated Press Television News (APTN). The other two dead were local civilians.

Kerem Lawton
Kerem Lawton: Died from shrapnel wounds
Both the Macedonian army and the rebels have denied responsibility for the mortar attack on the village of Krivenik, which lies just one kilometre inside Kosovo.

The shelling came as Nato-led international peacekeepers stepped up their patrols of the Kosovo-Macedonia border.

Macedonian troops are trying to drive the rebels from their strongholds in mountainous terrain close to the border.

Rebels hidden

Krivenik is separated by a mountainous ridge from Gracani, the Macedonian hamlet which is the focus of the current fighting.

American soldiers from the Nato-led force treated the casualties at a hastily-erected field hospital.

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
Macedonian troops have been using tanks, mortar and light artillery to shall positions held by the rebels near Gracani.

But the authorities have denied that Macedonian forces were responsible for the shellfire that fell inside Kosovo.

"The commander of operations in the Gracani area has said no Macedonian forces have used fire against targets inside Kosovo," said Defence Ministry spokesman Georgi Trendafilov.

A BBC correspondent who visited the area said up to 100 rebels of the National Liberation Army (NLA) have based themselves there, hidden in bunkers and shallow trenches.

Just a few days ago the Macedonian army was claiming significant progress in its efforts to drive out the NLA.

It had succeeded in pushing the rebels back from the hills around Tetovo, Macedonia's second largest city and the unofficial capital of its ethnic-Albanian community.

But so far their efforts around Gracani appear to have had little impact.

Nato steps up patrols

Nato forces along the Macedonia border are trying to cut off rebel supply routes.

Albanian rebels
Manpower: 300-700
Light anti-tank weapons
Kalashnikov rifles
Chinese-made machine guns
Sniper rifles and mortars
Polish and Ukrainian troops already deployed in the area are being supplemented by some 400 British and Finnish troops equipped with sophisticated surveillance systems.

But the mountainous nature of the terrain in the border area which makes the task of both Macedonian troops and Nato peacekeepers difficult.

The BBC's defence correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, who is in Kosovo, says sealing the border with Macedonia is almost impossible.

The ethnic-Albanians are lightly armed and know the mountains well.

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See also:

29 Mar 01 | Europe
Nato's Kosovo challenge
27 Mar 01 | Europe
EU call for dialogue in Macedonia
26 Mar 01 | Europe
Military forces in Macedonia
18 Mar 01 | Europe
Greater Albania question
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