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Europe

Peace threatened in Macedonia

An outbreak of violence has shaken Macedonia's fragile peace process hammered out by NATO.

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A new wave of fighting erupts in Macedonia.

Three Macedonian policemen were killed in clashes on Sunday following the arrest of alleged ethnic Albanian guerrillas supposedly protected by an amnesty.

It was the first serious violence between security forces and former guerrillas since the NATO-backed peace agreement was signed and the ceasefire took effect three months ago.

The special forces were sent in by Macedonia's ultra-nationalist Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski. They were supposed to secure a mass grave site said to contain executed Macedonians outside the northwestern village of Trebos.

Peace Plan "a Farce"

Minister Boskovski warned that although Macedonia had done everything stipulated under the peace plan, the arrest of the National Liberation Army (NLA) commanders proved that the guerilla brigades still functioned.

Ljube Boskovski

Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski

"They have automatic guns and pistols. This means that everything that happened so far was a farce that was presented by the international community, which should bear the responsibility," Boskovski (photo) said in a statement.

Diplomats claim nationalist hardliners were to blame for the violence. They suspect Boskovski's moves, which defy an agreed procedure for coordination with NATO, OSCE and European Union liaison teams, were aimed at provoking violence by former guerrillas to sink reforms in parliament.

Boskovski rejected the allegations, saying these conclusions had been drawn by "those that do not want to bear the responsibility" for what is happening in Macedonia.

The nationalists are opposed to civil rights reforms promised to minority Albanians after rebels disbanded under the peace pact.

Minister Boskovski said Macedonia should not "lose hope" following the murder of the policemen. "But it should prepare for definite strikes against the bandits or admit that it cannot cope with them and that it needs assistance," he added.

Civilians kidnapped

Hours after the killings near Trebos, black-clad Albanian gunmen kidnapped 16 persons. Two women and a young girl were released late Sunday night. The others are still being held with the apparent intention of exchanging them for the arrested Albanian guerillas.

Minister Boskovski said EU special envoy Alain Le Roy was mediating the negotiations for their release. But he said Macedonia would not agree to an exchange. "This must not become an everyday happening because if the kidnapping is the way for solving problems, then it may happen that revolting civilians start to use this method," Boskovski said.

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