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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 07:09 GMT 08:09 UK
Blasts rock Macedonia village
An ethnic Albanian man walks by two Macedonian policemen in the village of Tearce
Some ethnic Albanians think the patrols are premature
Two explosions have rocked the village of Tearce in north-western Macedonia, just hours after the country's first ethnically mixed police units began patrolling there.


We have been on alert for this type of incident, we said it was too early for a return of the police

Sali Jonuzi
Tearce council
The blasts were in the deserted police station and a local municipal building in the village, which is located near the flashpoint town of Tetovo, some 32km (20 miles) north-west of the capital Skopje.

Until a few weeks ago, the ethnically mixed area was under the control of ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

Officials from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the explosions caused superficial damage and injured nobody.

Clear political message

The BBC's Skopje correspondent Nicholas Wood says the blasts send a very clear political message.

The mixed police patrols are considered a key test to the country's peace process. They are to begin in four other villages in the area.

Macedonia map
Local Albanian leaders said the blasts were a reflection of ethnic Albanian opposition to the redeployment of police in the area.

They underscored persisting tensions in the country, where six months of clashes between government troops and ethnic Albanian rebels ended in August when the parties signed a peace accord.

The patrol, supervised by European monitors and German Nato troops, was a first step forward for several weeks in the three-month-old peace process, which has become bogged down in the Macedonian parliament.

Politicians nervously shook hands as six officers set off for a walk around town.

"It may not look like much, but this is truly important," said OSCE spokesman Harald Schenker. "It is a start."

The ethnic Albanians want to see the ratification of the western-brokered peace deal in the Macedonian parliament before security forces can return.

'Too early'

The local mayor, Llokman Elezi, said he opposed the return of police to the village, because he believed it would undermine his authority in the community.

KLA fighter hands in ammunition to Nato soldiers
Rebel fighters have given in thousands of weapons and ammunition
"They shouldn't have come. It is too early," Idriz Ahmeti, a 70-year-old ethnic Albanian resident, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news.

The head of the village council, Sali Jonuzi, said the blasts showed the people's frustration.

"We have been on alert for this type of incident, we had said that it was too early for a return of the police," Mr Jonuzi was quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP

More Albanian policemen

According to the plan, units of three Macedonian and three ethnic Albanian policemen are to patrol the villages across the contested north-west.

The proportion of ethnic Albanians in the national police force is to be boosted to 25%, which will mean recruiting about 1,000 new officers over the next two years.

Ethnic Albanians make up roughly one third of the country's population.

Macedonia's President Boris Trajkovski welcomed the start of the patrols, saying on Monday that they would "help relax ethnic relations" and boost the political process.

Implementation

Since the signing of the peace deal at Lake Ohrid on 13 August the ethnic Albanian rebels have handed nearly 4,000 weapons to Nato peacekeepers.

Nato has urged the Macedonian leadership to keep its side of the bargain by making the constitutional amendments listed in the deal.

They were meant to have been passed within six weeks, but three months have already passed.

Parliament is now due to begin debating the changes on Wednesday.


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See also:

02 Oct 01 | Europe
Pardew in Macedonia for talks
27 Sep 01 | Europe
Macedonia rebels 'disband'
27 Sep 01 | Europe
UN backs new Macedonia mission
31 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Macedonia: Wobbling Balkans domino
01 Sep 01 | Europe
Macedonia's landscape of fear
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