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The BBC's Paul Welsh
"Macedonia blames the EU for the increase in tensions"
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The BBC's Nick Thorpe
"There are some grounds for optimism"
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Thursday, 28 June, 2001, 17:55 GMT 18:55 UK
Envoy seeks Macedonia talks
The village of Nikustak where the rebels withdrew to early this week
Nikustak is coming under heavy bombardment
A new European Union peace envoy has arrived in Macedonia to try to help end fighting between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas that have raised fears of another Balkan civil war.


A failure in Macedonia would call into question everything we have achieved... in Bosnia and Kosovo

Francois Leotard

Former French Defence Minister Francois Leotard was appointed on Monday as resident EU representative to Macedonia - a job created to try to revive stalled peace talks.

He said the Macedonian Government enjoyed the support of the international community, which wanted to see the former Yugoslav republic's borders respected.

Mr Leotard said a civil war in Macedonia would jeopardise the work the EU had done to promote peace in the region since the former Yugoslavia broke up in 1991.

"Since 1991 we have had 250,000 dead in Yugoslavia," he said. "Macedonia is the last piece of the puzzle. If that piece is missing, all the rest will be put at risk," he added.

Francois Leotard
Mr Leotard will try to revive stalled peace talks
Mr Leotard issued a statement on Wednesday clarifying remarks he had made earlier in the day to the effect that the Macedonian government must negotiate with the ethnic Albanian rebels.

He later said the EU's position remained the same and there was no place for the guerrillas in the political dialogue, and that only the legitimate representatives of the political parties should participate.

US bars funding

In another development, President George W Bush signed an order barring Americans from financing rebel leaders. He also issued a proclamation restricting the entry into the USA of people seeking "to undermine peace and stability in the region".

In his strongest statement on the crisis in Macedonia so far, he also refused to rule out sending US troops to the country.

Macedonia's President, Boris Trajkovski, welcomed Mr Bush's order and appealed to European leaders to follow his lead.

He said Germany, Belgium and Switzerland were countries the rebels liked to use as safe havens for their accounts.

But on Thursday, Nato chief George Robertson endorsed Mr Bush's decision to bar fund-raising for the rebels and told Reuters that the European Union was "already looking at visa restriction and at closing off money supplies."

Launch new window : CLICKABLE MAP
Click above to launch a clickable map on Macedonia's regional fears

Human rights

As the new EU envoy arrived in Skopje, a European human rights watchdog based in Strasbourg urged Macedonia not to punish Albanian rebels who lay down their arms.

At the same time, however, the 43-member Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly strongly condemned the actions of extremist groups.

The assembly also called on Macedonia to protect the rights of ethnic Albanians and ensure that they were properly represented in public bodies including the police and army.

Shelling

Meanwhile, Macedonian troops continued to bombard two villages in the north east of the country - despite further appeals from Nato for the fighting to end.

Aracinovo burns after Macedonian bombardment
Rebels evacuated Aracinovo after a Nato-led operation
The shelling of the village of Nikustak, which began on Tuesday, followed the evacuation of rebels from nearby Aracinovo in a Nato-led operation.

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See also:

26 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Straw cancels Macedonia visit
27 Jun 01 | Media reports
Macedonian president 'guilty of success'
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