A group of around 70 men has attacked and killed at least six police officers in Macedonia near the border with Serbia and Kosovo. The restive region has long been home to ethnic tensions.
Dozens of men with weapons attacked special forces police in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo on Saturday, killing six police officers and injuring at least 20 people, according to local officials. Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovksa said officers conducting a sweep operation in the western part of the town had come under fire from automatic weapons and bombs.
A visibly emotional Jankulovska praised the "heroes who gave their lives today for the Republic of Macedonia" and told the press that some members of the "terrorist group" who attacked the officers had also perished, without specifying a number of casualties. She added that the police operation was still ongoing because some of the attackers refused to surrender.
Saturday's clashes coincided with link:18423944:a deep political crisis in the country as both the government and the opposition claim the other is planning to destabilize the nation in order to take or preserve power.
Taking advantage of political turmoil
Jankulovska said the group of around 70 men planned to "use the current political situation to perform attacks on state institutions," such as a local military base. She further specified that they had entered Macedonia from a neighboring country, but did not say which.
Kumanovo is an ethnically diverse town near the border with Kosovo and Serbia. Officials believe that the men had hidden in the region with the aid of local ethnic Albanians, who have a contentious history with the Macedonian government, taking up arms in 2001 to demand more rights, eventually requiring EU mediation to quell the conflict.
Serbia deployed troops to their side of the border, which is also home to a large group of ethnic Albanians who have traditionally had a confrontational attitude towards Belgrade.
es/jr (AP, dpa)