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Monday, 23 July, 2001, 23:32 GMT 00:32 UK
Fighting grips Macedonia city
Tetovo during the fighting
Smoke has been billowing over Tetovo
Macedonian government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels have stepped up their fighting in the country's second city of Tetovo, in the most serious breach so far to an 18-day-old ceasefire.

A 12-year-old girl was killed and at least 24 civilians and soldiers injured as the two sides exchanged automatic weapon and mortar fire for a second day.

In a separate incident, a Macedonian soldier was killed on the Albanian border in an attack blamed on the rebels.

Today we have real war in Tetovo

Tetovo resident

Western diplomats said the fighting seriously undermined hopes of getting the two sides to resume peace talks, stalled since last week.

'No military solution'

The flare up came a day before President George Bush was due to visit US troops in the province of Kosovo, across Macedonia's northern border.

US State Department spokesman Philip Reeker called for both sides to respect the ceasefire.

"There is no military solution to the problems of Macedonia," he said.

The clashes began in Tetovo on Sunday, although Monday's fighting was more serious.

The two sides fought for control of an area around the town's sports stadium. Rebel fighters also launched mortars at a barracks.

Macedonian Government forces responded by pounding villages in the mountains above the town, seen as a refuge for fighters from the rebel National Liberation Army.

"Today we have real war in Tetovo," a 38-year-old resident told Reuters news agency.

As the fighting continued, scores of cars were seen fleeing in the direction of Skopje, the capital.

Stalled talks

The fighting came as US and European envoys met with President Boris Trajkovski, in the hope of luring Macedonian and Albanian leaders back into making progress in stalled negotiations.

Macedonian police officer
Fighting has left the ceasefire in doubt

Talks broke down over a draft peace proposal. It suggested retaining Macedonian as the primary official language and keeping central state control over the police, but proposed Albanian as a second official language in some areas - a key demand for rebel leaders.

The language issue was the main sticking point, with many Macedonians opposed to any suggestion that Albanian become an "official" language.

Tetovo is regarded as the unofficial capital of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority.

In March the city and its surrounding villages were the scene of a month of fighting between the rebels and government forces.

The Albanian rebels say they are fighting to end discrimination.

The Macedonian authorities argue the rebels are trying to seize territory in order to secede from the country.

The BBC's Nick Wood
"The ceasefire looks all but over"

Key stories



See also:

20 Jul 01 | Europe
EU team killed in Macedonia
19 Jul 01 | Europe
Row over Macedonia peace plan
19 Jul 01 | Europe
Analysis: Macedonia talks setback
28 Jun 01 | Europe
Profile: Francois Leotard
26 Jun 01 | Europe
Analysis: Macedonia test for EU
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