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Tuesday, 3 July, 2001, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Macedonia talks amid sporadic clashes
American and European envoys meet the Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski (right)
The meeting focused on the course of the political dialogue
European and American special envoys, Francois Leotard and James Pardew, have held their first joint talks with the Macedonian President, Boris Trajkovski, on ending the four-month-old conflict in the country.


We have the beginning of a political process here

Francois Leotard
Mr Trajkovski invited both of them to attend his talks with ethnic Albanian leaders and other Macedonian politicians on Tuesday.

The meetings came as the Macedonian Defence Minister, Vlado Buckovski, warned that the military situation was deteriorating.

He said he hoped talks would produce results by 15 July.

Differences

Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders agree on the broad directions of a peace plan put forward by President Trajkovski, but differences remain over details.

A new draft constitution put forward by French constitutional expert Robert Badinter is also on the table.

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski
Mr Trajkovski rejects the idea of an international conference
Meanwhile, Mr Trajkovski rejected the idea of an international conference on the future of his country, suggested by Greece and currently being considered in western capitals.

"The process for settling the crisis is, and must remain, within Macedonia and its institutions as an internal affair," he said in a statement.

Ethnic Albanians, who comprise up to 30% of the population, are pushing for increased rights.

However, it is widely believed that the rebels want to annex part of Macedonia to Kosovo or Albania.

Clashes

Overnight, there were new clashes between Macedonian troops and ethnic-Albanian insurgents around rebel-held areas in the north of the country.

Correspondents say a new front has opened around the village of Radusa 40km (25 miles) north-west of Skopje.

Macedonian soldier
There were new clashes overnight
There were also clashes near the rebel-held town of Nikustak.

But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the number of people fleeing the fighting in Macedonia has dropped dramatically.

On Monday, 56 people arrived in neighbouring Kosovo, and over the weekend 500 refugees crossed the border.

In late June more than 2,000 people left the province each day.

The UNHCR says the main reasons behind the drop in numbers were renewed peace talks and reports that Macedonian police reservists were being demobilised.

But the agency added it remained extremely cautious, and was still on alert.

In total, more than 100,000 people have left northern Macedonia because of the fighting.

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