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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 18:47 GMT 19:47 UK
Macedonia's bitter divide
Ethnic Macedonian road-block, erected in protest against Nato deployment
Ethnic Macedonians fear losing control over their country
By Nick Thorpe in Skopje

As Nato troops prepare to deploy in Macedonia, the obituary columns of the main Macedonian- and Albanian-language newspapers underline the vast ethnic gulf which has opened between the two communities - a gulf into which Nato troops must now step.

In Tuesday's Dnevnik, the main Macedonian-language daily, Sveta Onufrievska, born 1891, is remembered fondly by her grandchildren, on the 16th anniversary of her death.

"A good Macedonian Orthodox Christian mother", she is buried with her husband in the graveyard in Lesok, which her family say with sadness they can no longer visit, even to light a candle at her graveside.

Lesok is a predominantly Macedonian village now in territory controlled by ethnic Albanian rebels, the NLA.

Orthodox church blown up in Macedonian village of Lesok
The Lesok attack has echoes of attacks on Orthodox monasteries in Kosovo

On the morning the obituary appeared, a church was blown up in the famous Orthodox monastery in Lesok, allegedly by radical Albanians opposed to the current ceasefire and peace accord.

In Tuesday's Fakti, the main Albanian-language paper, the obituary of a 36-year-old NLA fighter, Naser Ademi, is accompanied by a tribute from his sister.

His "heroic death and exemplary courage" brought honour to his family, she writes.

Elsewhere in each paper, the alleged atrocities committed by the other side alone are recounted in detail.

M-for not on agenda

While the two communities trade anger and insults, advance Nato troops fan out across rebel-held territory, meeting NLA commanders to discuss the weapons collection programme, Essential Harvest.

Five main collection points are now planned, each corresponding to an NLA brigade: the 112th, 113th, 114th, 115th and 116th.

Nato commanders stress that these are points on the map, and that there is no intention for the 3,500-strong Nato force to deploy along the inter-ethnic front-line.

Kfor troops push back ethnic Albanians trying to enter Serb area of Kosovska Mitrovica, February 2000
Nato does not want another policing operation like the one in Kosovo
They fear any such deployment would both solidify that line - the result of six months' fighting - and give their own mission a more permanent nature.

They are at great pains to emphasise that they are not "M-for" - to follow K-for in Kosovo and S-for in Bosnia - but simply the facilitators of an arms collection exercise, strictly limited to 30 days.

Estimates of the quantity and quality of NLA weapons vary enormously.

The Macedonian Defence Ministry says 8,000 guns. The NLA itself suggests 2,000. Nato diplomats say something in between.

Stay forever

While Nato fears for the safety of its troops, ethnic Macedonians and Albanians fear for their own futures - for different reasons.

Macedonians fear that the attack on the monastery in Lesok heralds the emergence of new, more extremist, Albanian groups, who will disregard the ceasefire and the peace accord.
British soldier on guard near Skopje airport
Nato's plans for a brief operation may conflict with ethnic Albanians' aspirations

Albanians fear revenge attacks from what they call extremist elements in the Macedonian police, once Nato has gone.

They would like Nato to stay "forever - or at least till the elections next year", as one observer put it.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Lesok
"The church is surrounded"
The BBC's Paul Adams
reports on the latest diplomatic developments
Antonio Milososki of the Macedonian government
"Albanian extreme groups are not prepared to respect the ceasefire"
Bob Stewart, former UN Commander in Bosnia
says Nato's supreme Commander will have a clear idea of his next move

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See also:

17 Aug 01 | Europe
Macedonia mission 'too short'
16 Aug 01 | Europe
Macedonia: The mission
06 Aug 01 | Europe
Nato ready for Macedonia action
20 Mar 01 | Europe
The military balance
02 May 00 | Europe
Profile: General Joseph Ralston
20 Aug 01 | Europe
Nato ready for Macedonia action
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