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The BBC's Nick Thorpe in Macedonia
"This may be an attempt by the Army to hit the rebels while their hands are still free"
 real 56k

Saturday, 12 May, 2001, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Macedonian army 'kills 30 rebels'
Macedonian army position
Tanks, artillery and helicopters were used on Saturday
The Macedonian army says its troops have killed at least 30 ethnic Albanian rebels during a major assault on Saturday - one day after the country's political leaders agreed to form a national unity government.

An army spokesman said artillery, tanks and helicopters had been used against the rebels in the northern villages of Slupcane and Vakcince.

There has been no confirmation from the rebels.

The renewed hostilities came as politicians were locked in negotiations on completing a new cabinet.

The coalition deal became possible after the Albanian opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) dropped a demand for a government ceasefire in its offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels.

The rebels of the National Liberation Army (NLA) dismissed the deal for not including any of their representatives.

Parliament is due to vote on the new government on Sunday.

Politics and fire

"Today we have a massive operation. At 10.20am (0820 GMT) we hit a column of uniformed terrorists to the north of Slupcane... We were most active at about 2.30pm, when we hit a column to the north-west of Vakcince," Macedonian army spokesman Colonel Blagoja Markovski told reporters.

"We used artillery and tanks in the morning and helicopters in the afternoon," he said.

Ethnic Albanian members of the National Liberation Army
The rebels have dismissed the national unity government
Reporters saw three Soviet-made T-55 tanks arrive to reinforce army positions less than two km (1.2 miles) below Vakcince.

They slammed shells into the already ruined hamlet after a short burst of automatic fire from rebels.

In the mainly Albanian city of Tetovo, the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity was meeting, but there has been no response yet.

PDP dropped its objections to joining the coalition after the government declared a 15-hour ceasefire, extending an initial lull in its bombardment to allow civilians to evacuate from rebel-held villages.

Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski
Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski has ruled out a ceasefire
Western leaders have welcomed the coalition deal, hoping it could lead to an extended and internationally monitored ceasefire as well as the withdrawal of the militants.

But the BBC's Nick Thorpe says they show no signs yet of a willingness to leave the swathe of land they control.

Ethnic Albanians - both the politicians and the militants - are calling for improved rights and representation for their population, including representation in the constitution and increased recognition of the Albanian language.

Villagers terrified

Our correspondent says the new government, sooner or later, will want to reassert its authority over at least four villages currently held by uniformed NLA soldiers.

Eight days of shelling by the Macedonian army have failed to dislodge the rebels, and there is a growing humanitarian crisis in those villages.

The Red Cross evacuated 72 people on Friday.

Around 9,000 civilians have fled across the border into neighbouring Kosovo.

But the village doctor in Slupcane told the BBC that he believes that at least 3,700 of its pre-war population of 4,200 are still there, hiding in shelters.

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See also:

11 May 01 | Europe
Macedonia coalition deal clinched
03 May 01 | Europe
Macedonia army begins offensive
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