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The BBC's Paul Anderson
"These refugees are taking no chances"
 real 56k

Monday, 11 June, 2001, 04:23 GMT 05:23 UK
Rebels threaten Macedonian capital
Macedonian soldiers question ethnic Albanian civilians
Troops question ethnic Albanians close to Aracinovo
About 1,000 ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia are threatening to attack the capital, Skopje, unless the government meets their demands.


I will start attacking police stations and the airport, the government and parliament, everything I can with our 120 mm mortars

Commander Hoxha
The rebels have been tightening their grip on a small town only a few kilometres outside the capital, which they seized on Friday.

The guerrilla leader, Commander Hoxha, has set a deadline of early on Monday morning, and has threatened attacks on the airport, an oil refinery and a main highway.

The Macedonian Government has not responded officially to the rebel ultimatum but reports say it has increased security around key facilities.

The United Nations refugee agency says that about 7,000 ethnic Albanians have meanwhile fled across the border into neighbouring Kosovo.

The developments are casting further doubt on a peace deal supported by the European Union.

Blockade

On Sunday the rebels of the National Liberation Army (NLA) blockaded a road out of their stronghold, the town of Aracinovo, close to a checkpoint manned by Macedonian security forces.


Commander Hoxha told journalists he would begin a bombardment unless the Macedonian army stopped attacking villages held by the rebels in the north of the country.

"I will start attacking police stations and the airport, the government and parliament - everything I can with our 120mm mortars.

We don't have many but they are effective. We will attack from the mountains," the rebel leader said.

The rebels' other key demand is to be included in talks on the country's constitutional future - something explicitly ruled out by the government.

Refugee exodus

A spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kosovo said on Sunday that some 7,000 refugees had crossed into the mainly ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo in Serbia by Saturday night.

Macedonia refugees being received by Red Cross workers in Kosovo
29,000 refugess have now fled Macedonia
That brings the total number of ethnic Albanians who have fled from Macedonia into Serbia since the present unrest began in February to more than 29,000, the spokeswoman said.

The rebels say they are fighting to force the government to give Macedonia's substantial ethnic Albanian minority equality with the Macedonian majority.

The government fears their real aim is to break away and become part of a greater Albania.

The European Union's senior security official, Javier Solana, said on Saturday that leaders of all the parties forming Macedonia's national unity government had accepted a plan drawn up by President Boris Trajkovski to end the conflict.

Mr Trajkovski's plan contains an amnesty for rebel fighters but excludes their leaders who "will be eliminated unless they go back where they came from".

One influential ethnic Albanian leader quickly dismissed the president's proposals as being "too broad" and needing "some corrections".

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