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The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"The government insists the refugees are being moved for their own safety"
 real 56k

Georgi Trendafilov
is a Macedonian forces spokesman
 real 28k

Monday, 28 May, 2001, 18:41 GMT 19:41 UK
Macedonia blasts rebel village
Matejce
The mosque in Matejce took a direct hit
The Macedonian army has been pounding the rebel-held village of Matejce as part of a massive offensive aimed at flushing out ethnic Albanian guerrillas based in the north of the country.


I found everyone very committed to bridge their differences

Javier Solana
The army said on Monday it had retaken the village - a claim denied by the rebels - but continued its bombardment after the announcement.

The army launched its massive offensive in the Kumanovo area five days ago, prompting a flood of civilians from the area.

The latest clashes came as the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, held talks in the capital, Skopje, aimed at pushing forward moves towards peace.

K-For base under threat

Buildings in Matejce were destroyed during the attack and the mosque took a direct hit.

Reports said the army had succeeded in pushing the rebels to the very outskirts of the village.

The army sent in a convoy of tanks and soldiers and used helicopter gunships to bombard Matejce after rebels attacked the village police station.

Nearby, Slupcane - another rebel stronghold - also came under attack on Monday. The army has already taken control of the village of Vakcince.

Mortar rounds also fell near a supply base used jointly by the Macedonian army and Nato's Kosovo peacekeeping force, K-For, in the town of Kumanovo.

K-For, which does not intervene in the conflict and uses Macedonia as a supply base for its duties in Kosovo, has asked the Macedonian army for protection.

Building bridges

Mr Solana's visit on Monday was aimed at breaking the impasse between ethnic Albanian and Macedonian politicians in the governing coalition.

"I found everyone very committed to bridge their differences," he said after talks, but warned that differences still remained.

He expressed his support for the coalition of national unity which he said was the "most appropriate framework to overcome the political and security situation".

Refugees
Thousands of Albanians have fled since the offensive began
The coalition - which was formed only earlier this month - is on the verge of collapse, after Albanian politicians struck a peace agreement with the rebels.

Macedonian politicians have refused to negotiate with the guerrillas and are furious.

The deal offered the rebels amnesty guarantees and a right of veto over decisions about ethnic Albanian rights, if they agreed to stop fighting.

Both the rebels and the mainstream ethnic Albanian parties want to see a change to the constitution.

It would give Macedonia's large ethnic Albanian minority the same status as the Macedonian majority and make Albanian an official language.

But the rebels are also widely believed to be seeking to annex Albanian-populated areas to Kosovo or Albania.

Refugees

Monday's fighting sparked another exodus of refugees from the villages under attack.

About 500 villagers were seen leaving and heading south.

The continued fighting makes it impossible for humanitarian agencies to enter the villages and help those civilians who remain there.

Thousands have fled the area but an unknown number have not.

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See also:

25 May 01 | Europe
Macedonian army pounds rebels
10 Mar 98 | Monitoring
Serbia's neighbours voice concern
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