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The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"The ceasefire may not last"
 real 56k

Carlo Ungaro is head of the OSCE mission in Skopje
"People feel they should move to safer ground"
 real 56k

Thursday, 17 May, 2001, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
Macedonia says ceasefire working
Ethnic Albanian civilians evacuated from Slupcane by the Red Cross
Some civilians left on Wednesday, many more on Thursday
Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski says security forces will not launch an immediate offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels despite the expiry of a deadline issued earlier this week.

"We believe that the ceasefire is producing results," he said in an official statement, adding that a large number of villagers had left their homes or were preparing to do so.

Trapped children in a cellar in Slupcane
Villagers have faced worsening conditions
Western diplomatic sources say that a breakthrough is close in efforts to persuade ethnic Albanian fighters to lay down their arms.

"We're close to peace," said one official, requesting anonymity.

Macedonia's new coalition government warned on Tuesday that the rebels would be "eliminated" if they failed to lay down their weapons by noon on Thursday.

But the international community has been urging both sides to show restraint, fearing that a major assault would split the coalition and trigger a wider conflict.

Warning

Despite heavy clashes overnight the rebel-held villages in the north of the country were quiet as the deadline passed.

As yet there is no sign of a rebel withdrawal, or of a large military build-up by government forces.


It should be clear that we will not allow the terrorists to grab part of the territory of Macedonia

Boris Trajkovski
President Trajkovski warned that Macedonia would not allow the rebels to hold on to the villages they now control.

"They can be defeated in one or two days," he said.

"But this is not just a military problem, so every measure taken should lead to a more long-lasting solution."

Shelling

Since the rebels re-emerged two weeks ago in several villages near the town of Kumanovo, Macedonian authorities have made numerous attempts to persuade civilians to leave.

Rebels in Slupcane
Rebels were been given until noon to stop fighting
Ethnic Albanian politicians have warned that if civilians were to die in an attack, they would withdraw from the coalition.

Macedonian officials have accused the rebels of using civilians as human shields.

More than 1,000 were estimated to remain in frontline villages on Thursday, but journalists saw several tractors pulling trailers filled with people out of the area, an hour before the government deadline was due to expire.

A rebel source was quoted as saying that the large village of Lipkovo, whose population had been swollen by displaced people, had been shelled for the first time overnight.

Presevo ultimatum

Across the border, Serbian officials issued a deadline of their own to ethnic Albanian rebels in the Presevo valley to give up their arms by 24 May, in order to avoid "new conflicts".

The date is the day set for Yugoslav troops to return to the final part of the demilitarised buffer zone along the boundary with Kosovo.

Nato peacekeepers in Kosovo said 45 more rebels laid down their weapons and crossed into the province on Thursday, following 80 who surrendered the previous day.

Nato has promised an amnesty to any surrendering over the coming week.

Rebels and security forces also agreed to demilitarise two villages - Lucane and Turija - two days after government soldiers claimed to have killed 14 rebels while storming the village of Oraovica.

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See also:

14 May 01 | Europe
Macedonia coalition gets to work
23 Mar 01 | Europe
The military balance
15 May 01 | Europe
Q&A: Macedonia's rebels
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