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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 20:20 GMT 21:20 UK
Macedonia rebels offer ceasefire
People pass by destroyed stores and property belonging to ethnic Albanians in Bitola
Homes and shops in Bitola were burned or destroyed
Ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia say they will begin a ceasefire at midnight local time (2200 GMT) on Thursday and have urged the government to do the same.


The NLA will refrain from fighting from 2400 on 7 June if it is not provoked by the military and police forces of the government

National Liberation Army
A statement from the National Liberation Army (NLA) said it would halt combat as long as it was "not provoked by the military and police forces of the government".

Reports shortly afterwards quoted Western diplomatic sources as saying that President Boris Trajkovski was preparing to table a peace plan involving rebel withdrawal and decommissioning of arms.

The news came a day after Prime Minister Lyubco Georgievski called for war to be declared on the rebels after five soldiers were killed in an ambush on Tuesday night.

The deaths sparked ethnic rioting in the southern town of Bitola, which had been home to some of the dead troops.

Government plan

Mr Trajkovski's plan envisaged a rebel withdrawal into Kosovo, the diplomats said.


An amnesty has been ruled out as unworkable under Macedonian law, but relief from prosecution could be offered.

The demilitarisation plan will be presented in a speech by Mr Trajkovski to parliament on Friday.

US and European leaders have called on the government to exercise restraint.

Macedonia's leaders pulled back from a proposed declaration of war last month after coming under intense Western pressure.

Funerals

Thousands of people attended the funerals in Bitola on Thursday of three of the soldiers who were native to the town.

Three separate processions wound their way through the town, after which the coffins were buried to the sound of artillery salutes.

Tuesday's fighting inflicted the heaviest toll on Macedonian forces for over a month and marked the return of heavy fighting to the north-west of the country.

Riots triggered by the soldiers' deaths left up to 13 people injured in Bitola, and 50 properties and a mosque damaged.

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