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The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Skopje
"Western negotiators will need the patience of Sisyphus"
 real 28k

The BBC's Jonathan Charles, in Skopje
"Macedonia's military campaign is gaining momentum by the hour"
 real 56k

Sunday, 24 June, 2001, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Third day of shelling in Macedonia
Tanks near Aracinovo
Tanks have been moving into position above Aracinovo
The Macedonian army has resumed its assault on ethnic Albanian rebels for a third day, despite international pressure for a truce.

Skopje oil refinery
Skopje's airport and oil refinery would be likely rebel targets
The artillery and tank bombardment of the village of Aracinovo, 10km (six miles) north of the capital Skopje, began early on Sunday after a lull on Saturday evening.

A government spokesman told the BBC that he was confident that the rebels would be defeated within four or five days.

But the Nato and the European Union are calling for more talks between the two sides to avert an all-out civil war.

"New outbreaks of violence, from whichever side, are madness at this sensitive time," said Nato Secretary-General Lord Robertson.

Click here to see map of the region

EU pressure

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, is expected to have more talks in Skopje on Sunday.

Javier Solana
Solana: More talks planned for Sunday
Western officials say his Saturday meeting with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski went badly, and the Macedonian leader was impervious to all appeals to stop the government assaults.

Some 3,000 ethnic Albanians have left the country in the past few days, fearful that the violence may spread, and the political parties that represent them have threatened to withdraw in protest from the governing coalition.

Mr Solana has set Monday as a deadline for "substantial progress" in talks.

Macedonia's political leaders are then due to brief a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

Tank advance

Tanks were manoeuvring into position on the hills behind Aracinovo on Sunday morning, Reuters news agency reported.

On Saturday, the Macedonian army said it had recaptured one-third of the town in a major offensive.

Sukhoi ground attack aircraft
Sukhoi jets have boosted Macedonia's forces
The military operation - involving tanks, helicopters and heavy artillery - began at dawn on Friday, two weeks after the rebels seized Aracinovo.

A rebel commander has told the BBC that if the attack on the village continued, he would shell Skopje.

It remains unclear whether the rebels - reported to number more than 700 - have the firepower to carry out their threat.

Mission

Correspondents say Mr Solana is now likely to leave the Balkan stage to concentrate on the fragile ceasefire in the Middle East.

There is speculation that the European Union may replace him with a permanent peace envoy to Macedonia as early as Monday.

Nato has pledged to send 3,000 troops to Macedonia, but only if a political settlement is reached.

The Macedonian army has been locked in conflict with armed ethnic Albanian rebels - mainly based in the northern Macedonia - since they began an uprising in February.

The rebels retain control of a string of villages near the borders with Kosovo and southern Serbia as well as the village of Aracinovo.



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See also:

22 Jun 01 | Europe
Crunch time for Macedonia
13 Jun 01 | Europe
Panic sparks refugee exodus
14 Jun 01 | Europe
Skopje's atmosphere of fear
12 Jun 01 | Europe
Macedonia army chief resigns
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