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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 18:00 GMT
Analysis: Macedonia's political fallout
International War Crimes Tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski
The war crimes tribunal is opening two investigations
By the BBC's Bill Hayton

In what is being seen as another setback for Macedonia's peace process, the country's main moderate ethnic-Macedonian party - the Social Democratic Alliance - has announced it is leaving the governing coalition.

Their departure is likely to strengthen the position of Macedonian nationalists who have taken a hard-line attitude towards unrest by ethnic Albanians in the northwest of the country.

The Social Democrats' departure means they will give up control of the Foreign and Defence Ministries, forcing a government reshuffle

A bomb explosion in the north-western city of Tetovo caused no injuries and little physical damage, but it did underline the ongoing tension in the country's ethnic Albanian areas.

So far no group has claimed responsibility for the device - which was reportedly thrown from a car near the offices of the European Union's mission in the city.

A shadowy militant group calling itself the Albanian National Army has claimed responsibility for a more serious blast on Sunday, but a spokesman denied being behind the latest explosion.

Mass grave

Monitors from the EU are among several international observers overseeing the excavation of a suspected mass grave site in the nearby village of Trebos.

Government officials believe 13 people, allegedly abducted and killed by ethnic Albanian fighters in July, could be buried there.

Attempts, 10 days ago, by Macedonia security forces to enter the area sparked a series of shooting incidents in which three policemen were killed and two wounded.

That operation was criticised by European diplomats who called it unnecessarily provocative.

Ethnic Albanian fighter
Ethnic Albanian fighters are suspected of abducting and illing 13 people in July
But this time around the excavation is going ahead with international approval and monitoring. Local Albanian leaders have objected to it, but so far there have been no incidents of violence.

And the excavation is now taking place in co-operation with the UN's International War Crimes Tribunal.

The Tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, announced she was opening two investigations in Macedonia - one into alleged abuses by the security forces and another into suspected crimes by the now-disbanded ethnic Albanian NLA rebel group.

It is the first time the tribunal has looked into allegations of human rights abuses in Macedonia during the months of fighting between rebels and security forces earlier this year.

Peace accord

The fighting ended with a peace agreement signed on 13 August at the lakeside resort of Ohrid. As part of that peace accord the national parliament finally ratified a series of constitutional amendments improving the status of the country's Albanian minority.

That was only possible because of the combined efforts of all of Macedonia's main political parties. But now that the vote has taken place, the coalition has begun to splinter.
Ljubco Georgievski
Ljubco Georgievski's nationalist party is one of three that remain

The left-leaning Social Democratic Alliance has pulled out, together with the much smaller Liberal Democrats. That has left the more nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski governing with two Albanian parties - the DPA and the PDP.

The Social Democrats' departure means they will give up control of the foreign and defence ministries, forcing a government reshuffle.

Hard liner

International observers are concerned that this may strengthen the hand of the country's hawkish interior minister Ljube Boskovski.

He has taken a particularly tough line against the Albanian rebels and analysts in Macedonia fear that with the Social Democrats moderating influence now gone, heavy-handed operations by the security forces could spark a new confrontation.

A spokeswoman for the Social Democrats said the party was leaving so that it would no longer share the blame for what she described as the government's confrontational tactics.

She also called for new elections which had been expected to take place in January.

But the governing VMRO is unwilling to call an election so soon - mainly because they have fallen behind the SDSM in opinion polls.

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