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Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 03:58 GMT 04:58 UK
Two Macedonian policemen shot dead
Macedonian police officers direct the traffic near the attack site
The attack is one of the most serious in recent months
Two policemen have been shot dead in western Macedonia, near the Albanian border.

The drive-by attack occurred overnight as the two reservists were on patrol near Gostivar, some 70 kilometres (40 miles) from the capital, Skopje, police said.

The town is a multi-ethnic area, home to Macedonians, Albanians and Turks.

The attack comes just three weeks before crucial legislative elections - the first poll to be held since the country narrowly averted civil war last year.

The Macedonian Government has condemned the killing of the two policemen as a terrorist act intended to challenge the country's stability in the run-up to the elections.

The shooting is the most serious incident to have taken place in the former Yugoslav republic since the electoral campaign began on 15 August.

It is not known who carried out the attack, and an investigation is under way.

A police spokesman said an intensive search for the gunmen was under way.

Motive unclear

A spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior said the two policemen tried to flag down a car on a motorway near Gostivar.

The car failed to stop, drove by, and men inside sprayed the policemen with machine-gun fire.

The two officers died on their way to hospital.

Attack site
The two policemen tried to flag down a car on a motorway near Gostivar

It is unclear what the exact motive for the killings is, but it may affect what has otherwise been a relatively peaceful electoral campaign, says the BBC's Pristina correspondent, Nicholas Wood.

Talk of ethnically motivated violence and last year's conflict between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and the Macedonian security forces has been kept to a minimum.

The shooting is an unpleasant reminder of last year's fighting, and with no party showing a clear lead in the polls, it maybe difficult for some politicians not to try and use this latest incident to their own advantage, our correspondent says.

Peacekeeping

The forthcoming elections, due to be held on 15 September, are intended to cement an international peace agreement which ended a seven-month ethnic Albanian uprising last August.

Large parts of Macedonia were the scene last year of fierce clashes between ethnic Albanians, fighting for more rights, and Macedonian forces.

The agreement, under the supervision of Nato and the European Union, opened the way for the deployment of a Nato peacekeeping force, which has since largely been responsible for security in Macedonia.


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03 Jul 02 | England
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