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The BBC's Jonathan Charles in Macedonia
"The guns have now fallen silent for the first time in days"
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UN Special Envoy to the Balkans, Carl Bildt
" I think we have to look at all of the regional issues in context"
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Sunday, 24 June, 2001, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
Ceasefire agreed in Macedonia
Tanks near Aracinovo
Tanks around Aracinovo have fallen silent
The Macedonian government and rebel ethnic Albanians holding a village close to the capital Skopje have agreed a ceasefire after three days of fighting.

There is a ceasefire here, it is agreed and it is good ...Skopje now is not under threat

Javier Solana

The government ended its offensive against the village, Aracinovo, after talks between President Boris Trajkovski and the European Union's senior foreign policy official, Javier Solana.

A BBC correspondent in Skopje says the talks were apparently "extremely acrimonious", with the Macedonians reluctant to abandon the battle they were convinced they were going to win.

Our correspondent says western countries are likely to be relieved that the slide towards all-out civil war in Macedonia appears to have been arrested, at least for the time being.

The government move is a surprise development as President Trajkovski had insisted the offensive, launched on Friday, would not end until the army had regained control of Aracinovo.

The president has steadfastly refused to talk to the rebels.

'Tanks silent'

"There is a ceasefire which I hope will extend to the rest of the country," Javier Solana told journalists in Skopje.

Skopje oil refinery
Rebels have threatened Skopje's airport and oil refinery
"Political dialogue should now continue."

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

Macedonia's political leaders are due to brief a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, but it is unclear whether they will do so.

Military sources say the army ceased its attacks on Aracinovo, some 10km (6 miles) from Skopje, at about 1200 GMT.

Tanks that had been pounding the village fell silent and helicopter gunships returned to base.

Click here to see map of the region

Only a few hours earlier, a Macedonian Government spokesman confidently predicted that rebels in Aracinovo, believed to number more than 700, would be defeated in a matter of days.

A rebel leader in northern Macedonia told the AFP news agency that negotiations were under way for the guerrillas to pull out of Aracinovo.

Commander Sokoli said the rebels would probably withdraw to the town of Lipkovo to the north.

Greater Albania fears

The rebels, of the National Liberation Army, say they are fighting for equal rights for Macedonia's ethnic Albanians, who make up nearly one-third of the population.

Javier Solana
Solana: 'There is a ceasefire'

But many fear their real agenda is to incorporate large parts of Macedonia in a Greater Albania.

They began their uprising in February and still control a string of villages near the borders with Kosovo and southern Serbia.

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

Some 3,000 ethnic Albanians have left the country in the past few days, fearful that the violence may spread.

The political parties that represent them have threatened to withdraw in protest from the governing coalition.

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