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The BBC's Chris Morris
"Peace in Macedonia is hanging by a thread"
 real 56k

The BBC's Nick Wood, in Tetevo
"It seems a pattern is being established"
 real 28k

Major Barry Johnson, Nato spokesman
"We're trying to bring back into place a durable ceasefire"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 25 July, 2001, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
Fresh violence hits Macedonia
Crowd in Skopje
Protesters in Skopje attacking a UN vehicle
Fresh fighting broke out in Macedonia on Wednesday as Albanian rebels clashed with security forces around the northern city of Tetovo.

News of the fighting inflamed an already dangerous mood in the capital, Skopje, following riots targeting Nato and international mediators accused of supporting the rebels.

Macedonian policeman
Tetovo's streets are reported to be almost deserted
The Macedonian Government is insisting the Albanian rebels must withdraw to their positions of two weeks ago, when a Nato-arranged ceasefire was agreed.

However, our correspondent says rebel forces have proved they can move in and out of parts of the Tetovo - which they regard as their unofficial capital - and say they are ready to take the city if need be, to protect Albanian citizens who live there.

Who is protecting the terrorists ? - Nato

Skopje banner
For the government, that is unacceptable and officials are warning of a possible all-out offensive.

The rebels' attack on Tetovo, Macedonia's second largest city, began against an army barracks in the north of the city.

Heavy explosions

Lightly-armed Macedonian police abandoned several checkpoints and were replaced by rebels, Macedonian media reported.

A Macedonian defence official said: "The terrorists began attacks on almost all police checkpoints with machineguns and mortars".

Heavy explosions and bursts of gunfire could be heard just 200 metres from the town centre as fighting continued into the night.

On Wednesday, Tetovo's streets were reportedly almost deserted, with hundreds of residents fleeing the city and surrounding villages, several of which are thought to be under rebel control.

In Skopje crowds ran through its streets on Tuesday, attacking international organisations and criticising Nato-led efforts to broker peace.

Pullout threat

About 3,000 people protested in front of the parliament building, unfurling a banner that read, "Who is protecting the terrorists ? - Nato."

The British and German embassies were attacked, and three cars were set alight outside the European security organisation, the OSCE.

The local head of the OSCE said the body would pull out of Macedonia if its staff were endangered.

Later, protesters pelted the US Embassy, smashing windows. A heavy force of riot police ringing the complex did not intervene.

Man with candle
Macedonians protest at peace proposals
Nato officials have denied providing any backing to the rebels.

The United States and other countries in the Western alliance have repeatedly pledged their support to the Macedonian Government and have supported its refusal to negotiate directly with the rebels.

Meanwhile, US President George W Bush, who visited US troops in Kosovo, called on both sides to maintain the two-week-old ceasefire.

"Those here in Kosovo who support the insurgency in Macedonia are hurting the interests of ethnic Albanians throughout the region," the president said in a statement.

Dangerous mood

The new violence came as Macedonia closed its border with Kosovo following a row between the government in Skopje and international peace negotiators.

It is the first time Macedonia has shut the border since March - a measure which led to international criticism.

Tuesday's move appeared to be linked to reports that US envoy James Pardew and EU mediator Francois Leotard had blamed Macedonian security forces for breaking the 19-day-old ceasefire.

Macedonian Government spokesman Antonio Milosovski said the two men had shown themselves to be biased. He also said Nato was helping rebels pursue their separatist ambitions.

The two negotiators rejected the allegations outright.

But Western diplomats are thought to be increasingly frustrated by hard-liners in the Macedonian Government stopping the peace process moving forward.

The militants launched their insurgency in February, saying they were fighting for greater rights for ethnic Albanians, who account for up to a third of Macedonia's two million people.

The government alleges the rebels are linked to militants in neighboring Kosovo and accuses them of trying to carve out territory from Macedonia.

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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
23 Jul 01 | Europe
Fighting grips Macedonia city
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