(AFP) Macedonian chases rebels, ponders social change


Wednesday March 28, 7:58 PM

Macedonian chases rebels, ponders social change

SKOPJE, March 28 (AFP) - Macedonia sent its troops along the border with
Kosovo Wednesday to flush out pockets of Albanian rebel resistance.
    Special police and army units moved in after a softening up
artillery barrage.
    "Since this morning a new action of the Macedonian security forces
has been underway in order to break terrorists along the northern border
where there have been provocations," said army spokesman Blagoja
    They mounted operations around villages near the mountainous border
to dislodge rebels from traditional power bases.
    These were concentrated around the villages of Brest, Malino Malo
and Gosince, the scene of early clashes before the rebels opened up new
fronts in mid-March outside Tetovo in the northwest.
    The army planned to occupy the entire border to enforce tighter
control. "Police entered into the villages confronting terrorists, the
army does not enter the villages," said Markovski, saying there had been
no casualties so far.
    At the weekend Macedonian troops dislodged guerrillas positioned in
hills surrounding the largely Albanian town of Tetovo.
    But the rebels said shortly afterwards they still controlled
positions in villages further east around Lipkovo, the apparent target
of Wednesday's attacks.
    The government dismissed the rebels as a spent force but
acknowledged that sporadic attacks could drag on.
    As the flushing out operation went ahead the government itself began
looking into the social and political grievances that led to armed
conflict in the first place.
    Government spokesman Antonio Milososki said Skopje now wanted a
"political and economic dialogue" on issues in the fragile multi-ethnic
    Skopje has already begun soul-searching about its large Albanian
minority which, according to official figures, makes up at least a
quarter of Macedonia's two million people.
    Albanians claim they represent more than a third of the population.
    In Vienna, Macedonian Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim acknowledged
that his country had not done all it could to integrate ethnic
    "We should have had many more Albanians in national structures. That
would have been important not only politically but socially," he told
the APA news agency ahead of talks with Austrian Foreign Minister Benita
    "If Albanians are not part of national structures, they can't
identify with the country," he added.
    Interior ministry spokesman Stevo Pendarovski has already admitted
that Skopje had "much to learn from this crisis."
    A day after visiting Tetovo, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana
briefed the European Union on the situation, stressing that Macedonia's
potential membership of the union could provide the opportunity for more
dialogue on ethnic issues.
    Before the outbreak of fighting near the border last month,
Macedonian was the only former Yugoslav republic to have gained its
independence peacefully.
    Macedonia is the only southeast Balkan state to have been invited to
sign a stabilisation and association agreement with the EU.
    The accord was due to be signed on April 9 but Solana told the
European Parliament's foreign committee that before that could happen
all parties had to distance themselves from the fighting and agree on a
political resolution to ethnic rights issues.
    He proposed an inter-community commission be set up in Macedonia to
bring together leaders of all ethnic groups.
    He saw the desire to join the European Union as a "powerful unifying
force in Macedonian politics."

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