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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 22:27 GMT
Macedonian special police end blockade
Lions talking to Macedonian police
About 700 Lions faced 200 regular policemen
A tense standoff has ended in Macedonia when members of an armed unit lifted their two-day blockade of the main road near the capital, Skopje.

The agreement came after talks between the Lions special police squad and President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski.

The country does not need such a unit

Branko Crvenkovski
Prime Minister
Under deal, the unit is to be disbanded with most of its members joining the regular police and army.

The Lions were set up by a former interior minister - belonging to a nationalist party - to fight ethnic Albanian insurgents in 2001.

Human rights groups and foreign observers have blamed them for increasing inter-ethnic tensions in spite of a relatively successful peace process following the hostilities.

Investigation

"The roads are open now, the unit is withdrawing," Lions spokesman, Toni Mihajlovski, said after the talks.

Mr Mihajlovski said leaders of the 1200-strong elite force had agreed to disband - those not joining the army and police would be demobilised.

"We are happy with what we have achieved," Mr Mihajlovski said.

We are happy with what we have achieved

Toni Mihajlovski
Lions spokesman
Prime Minister Crvenkovski announced an investigation and "possible criminal charges against some mutineers," Associated Press news agency reported.

"The country does not need such a unit," Mr Crvenkovski said.

Established two years ago to fight ethnic Albanian rebels, the Lions are no ordinary police unit, says the BBC's Alix Krueger.

They were created by former Interior Minister Ljubco Boskovski, a controversial and outspoken Macedonian nationalist.

The Lions are bitterly opposed to the inclusion of former Albanian fighters in the new non-nationalist coalition government, and want to see them excluded.

The standoff had pitched around 200 government police against about 700 members of the Lions, armed, dressed in camouflage and balaclavas.

A year and a half ago Macedonia was forcibly hauled back from the brink of war - but this was a stark reminder of the underlying tensions which remain, our correspondent says.

See also:

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