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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 September, 2003, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK
Macedonian forces clash with militants
By Nicholas Wood
BBC Skopje correspondent

Several suspected ethnic Albanian militants have been killed in clashes with Macedonian police and troops on the country's northern border, Macedonian officials say.

A fighter from the National Liberation Army
Most ethnic Albanian guerrillas were in the UCK
A spokesman for Macedonia's Interior Ministry said a routine patrol of army border guards came under fire on Sunday morning.

Troops called for support and a police operation was then launched to seize control of two villages, Brest and Malina Mala.

The spokesman said there had been no injuries among the security forces, adding that weapons had been seized during the operation.

The shooting is one of the most serious incidents to have taken place since the end of a conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and security forces two years ago.

It will be seen as a setback for the Macedonian Government.

Policy under threat

Formed just under a year ago, it is made up of Social Democrats - who are mainly Macedonian - and former members of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla organisation, the National Liberation Army (UCK).

Ethnic Albanian village of Ljuboten during conflict
Some local officials say a renewed conflict cannot be ruled out
That group was behind the 2001 conflict with security forces.

Diplomats had hoped the new government would help to appease ethnic Albanian militants.

However, in spite of considerable progress in the peace process, security forces have been unable to establish their authority in many ethnic Albanian areas - and in some cases armed criminal groups are able to operate with relative impunity.

This latest clash means the government's policy of containment will now be under threat.

Just before the shooting , police had narrowly avoided a stand-off with Albanian gunmen in another area.

They were searching for a former guerrilla commander accused of kidnapping a policeman.

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