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Wednesday, March 11, 1998 Published at 10:47 GMT


Will Macedonia follow in Bosnia's wake?
image: [ Young Albanians take to the streets of Skopje in protest ]
Young Albanians take to the streets of Skopje in protest

The Serb clampdown in Kosovo has infuriated ethnic Albanians in neighbouring Macedonia where people a combination of a volatile ethnic mix, widespread poverty, and historical resentments is threatening the very fabric of the Macedonian state, as Caroline Wyatt reports from the capital, Skopje.

Heeding the rallying cry, 'Kosovo is calling to us', young ethnic Albanians take to the streets of Macedonia. In this republic, almost a quarter of the people are of Albanian descent.

[ image: Fears for children's future]
Fears for children's future
Now many are demanding their own independent homeland together with their brethren in Kosovo.

The mood is increasingly militant. Every day the call to arms to growing louder.

Arben Dzaferi of the Party for Democratic Prosperity says the situation is "pushing us to be soldiers, to think in a military way. We are good soldiers and we know how we can fight."

The air of peace hanging over the Macedonian capital, Skopje, may be a deceptive one. Ethnic Albanians claim that here too their voice is being stifled.

Such accusations are played down by government politicians. They fear that demands for Albanian autonomy could shake the very foundations of this fragile state.

"The Albanians are represented in every institution in this country," says Branco Janeuski of the Social Democratic Party.

[ image: The market: meeting place]
The market: meeting place
"The government and the parliament are the places where they can and should make their voice heard. The government will take appropriate measures against any unconstitutional action."

The ethnic mix in the city's market remains a rich one, unlike the country's economy.

Since communism, times have been hard for the people of this manly agricultural nation.

Divisions beginning to show

The battle for day to day existence has left many with little sympathy for the Albanians' plight. Some Macedonians warn that they too are ready to bear arms to keep their nation together.

[ image:
"I will fight for Macedonia"
"Yeah, I will fight for Macedonia because this is my country and they are Macedonian too," one young Macedonian says.

"Albanians in Macedonia are Albanian; they don't understand that."

Just 20 kms away in the hills bordering Kosovo, the community lives in fear.

This village is home to more than 1000 ethnic Albanians. But last week many women and children fled to safety in Skopje.

Memories here are long. This woman tells me of a Serb massacre in this village more than 50 years ago.

The recent bloodshed has left her with little faith that her grandchildren can look forward to a peaceful future.

UN presence not sufficient

[ image: The UN keeps watch]
The UN keeps watch
Every day soldiers from the UN early warning force monitor the borders to Serbia and Kosovo.

But even their presence has failed to reassure the regions Albanian inhabitants. They say the international community must do before it is too late.

It is the tensions within Macedonia itself that make the instability across this border so deeply threatening.

If the crisis in Kosovo is not resolved soon, then the fear here is that this country too could be dragged into a war it does not want, a conflict every bit as bloody as Bosnia.

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