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Saturday, 2 June, 2001, 20:43 GMT 21:43 UK
Fresh fighting hits Macedonia
Scene of Macedonian fighting
The shelling by tanks and artillery could be heard in villages all round the area
By Colin Blane in Skopje

There has been fresh fighting between government troops and ethnic Albanian guerrillas in villages north of the Macedonian capital, Skopje.

The heaviest exchanges took place at Matejce which has been fiercely contested for several days.

map of Macedonia
Humanitarian organisations say they are becoming extremely concerned about the conditions for civilians caught in the battle zone.

The shelling of Matejce by tanks and artillery could be heard in villages all round the area and smoke from the explosions drifted into the sky.

Matejce remains the main battleground in the government's offensive and armoured vehicles can be been seen on the streets.

After a week of ferocious exchanges, the guerrillas are still returning fire.

Monastery stronghold

The Macedonian army says the rebels have taken up positions in a medieval monastery overlooking the town.

The other guerrilla stronghold under fire was Slupcane - which like Matejce - has been shelled on an almost daily basis.

To the west, in the hills above Tetevo, there has also been shooting between government troops and rebels.

Trapped civilians

There is continuing concern about the plight of civilians who are caught up in the fighting, especially in Lipkovo, which is swollen with displaced people from other villages.

Refugees in Aracinovo, near the capitol Skopje
Aid organisations are helping those who can be reached
The Red Cross say they are still attempting to secure the safety guarantees they need to reach the trapped civilians.

While the crisis in the country continues, there are signs that Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders may be ready to talk to each other again.

It is understood President Boris Trajkovski has invited the main parties in the government coalition to meet him on Sunday evening.

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