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The BBC's Colin Blane
"Government forces have been attacking rebel forces in a string of villages"
 real 28k

Friday, 1 June, 2001, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Fighting traps Macedonia civilians
Macedonian soldier
The army said it responded to rebel "provocation"
The Macedonian army has renewed its battle for control of rebel-held villages in the north as fears grow for thousands of civilians trapped in the area.

The villagers of Lipkovo, Otlaja and Slupcane are now eating boiled wheat daily because the police and army have imposed an iron siege

Mayor of Lipkovo
Despite a lull in the fighting on Thursday and early Friday, the Red Cross could not gain access to the village of Lipkovo, where the civilians are concentrated, because neither side could give sufficient security guarantees.

Hot weather and meagre food supplies have worsened conditions for the estimated 8,000 villagers caught up in the battle area.

But there are hopes that a peaceful solution to the conflict may yet be found after talks between Albanian politicians and Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski in the capital, Skopje.

Shelling resumes

"The villagers of Lipkovo, Otlaja and Slupcane are now eating boiled wheat daily because the police and army have imposed an iron siege," Lipkovo mayor Hysamedin Halil told Flaka newspaper.

map of Macedonia
The hot weather is threatening water supplies on top of the existing food and medicine shortages.

The government said it had hoped villagers would use the lull in fighting to leave for the town of Kumanovo, where reception centres have been organised.

But rebels say the civilians - mainly ethnic Albanians - are too afraid they will be mistreated by Macedonian soldiers to leave.

The army says rebels are deliberately keeping them in the villages and are using them as human shields.

It said it renewed its shelling of the village of Matejce in response to rebel "provocation".

Fighting was also reported around Macedonia's second city, Tetovo, where the rebel insurgency first erupted in February.

Peace plans

Key ethnic Albanian politicians said that a proposed plan to end the conflict had to be put before the rebels.

Matejce mosque
In Matejce, the fighting has destroyed the mosque
"We heard some interesting suggestions for cessation of hostilities...But we should discuss it with those who are waging the war," said Arben Xhaferi, after meeting with President Trajkovski.

The plan, which is similar to the one which helped disarm ethnic Albanian guerrillas in southern Serbia, would offer the rebels amnesty if they laid down their arms.

It would also allow hardline militants to cross into neighbouring Kosovo.

But plans to address the demands of both politicians and rebels for better representation and rights for the Albanian population have led to confusion in the governing coalition.

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's suggestion that the constitution may have to be changed was a step too far for some of his Macedonian coalition partners.

Macedonia is under intense international pressure to build a multi-ethnic society and recognise the Albanians' demands.

Ethnic Albanians make up between a quarter and a third of Macedonia's population of two million.

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31 May 01 | Europe
Macedonia's road to peace?
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