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Saturday, 11 August, 2001, 00:29 GMT 01:29 UK
Macedonia appeals for outside help
Macedonian Roma women mourn for a Macedonian soldier
Macedonian has declared Saturday a day of mourning
The Macedonian foreign minister has made a plea for tougher action by the international community in the face of continuing violence which is threatening a foreign-mediated peace plan.

Her call came as another seven Macedonian soldiers died when their vehicle hit a landmine near Skopje on Friday.


We must not allow Macedonia to perish in flames

Macedonian foreign minister
The Macedonian Government has declared Saturday a day of national mourning.

The army convoy deaths brought crowds of protesters onto the streets of the capital on Friday evening, where they attempted to storm the US embassy, threw stones and shouted anti-Albanian and anti-Western slogans.

Macedonia has buried 10 other soldiers, who were killed in a rebel ambush two days earlier.

Peace plan jeopardised

Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said that the violence showed that the rebels would never accept an agreement that they disarm voluntarily, despite a plan that political leaders from both sides sign a peace agreement on Monday.

In an open letter to the UN, Nato and the European Union, Ms Mitreva wrote: "This is an act of courage ... we expect the same virtue from the international community."

Macedonian police
Further military offensives are planned
"Now is the moment for the international community to act energetically," she said, without elaborating.

International mediators have responded to the fresh violence with warnings that it may jeopardise Monday's scheduled signing of an agreement.

In response to Firday's landmine deaths, the Macedonian army bombarded Ljuboten - an ethnic Albanian village close to the site of the ambush.

Nato has made it clear that it will not get involved in the peace deal - which would give ethnic Albanians more language rights and greater representation in the police force - if both sides are not committed to peace.

Civil war fear

But Ms Mitreva pleaded in the letter that "Macedonia is facing the threat of civil war," arguing that rebels were trying to carve off a portion of the country for themselves.

"We must not allow Macedonia to perish in flames," she wrote.

But the protests on the streets of Skopje reflected the belief of many Macedonians that the West is biased in favour of the country's ethnic Albanians.

A Sukhoi jet
Warplanes have been used for the first time this week
A rebel commander who goes by the name Sokoli, or Falcon, was equally pessimistic about the chances of peace.

"The situation is worsening and we are ready for everything," he told the Associated Press news agency.

President Boris Trajkovski said in a statement that the government troops would continue with their offensive.

Clashes

In addition to the violence at Ljuboten, ethnic Albanian rebels and the Macedonian army had swapped gunfire earlier on Friday on the outskirts of Tetovo.

The Associated Press quoted a police official as saying that 11 rebels were killed as they targeted a police checkpoint on Friday morning near the town of Gostivar, a town dominated by ethnic Albanians about 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Skopje.

The agency reported that another police source said 12 Macedonian police reservists were then abducted by rebels in Gostivar.

The independent A1 television station, quoting police sources, also reportedly said five Macedonian policemen had been injured by ethnic Albanian guerrillas in shooting near the northern Macedonian town of Radusa.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Chris Morris
"There's supposed to be a ceasefire here"
Major Barry Johnson, NATO
"Emotions are running high"

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See also:

10 Aug 01 | Europe
Macedonia buries ambush victims
06 Aug 01 | Europe
Nato ready for Macedonia action
04 Jul 01 | Europe
Viewpoint: Macedonian identity
20 Mar 01 | Europe
The military balance
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