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Macedonia: Government Forces Celebrate Victory


Skopje, 27 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonians today are celebrating a military victory that drove ethnic Albanian fighters from the hills overlooking Tetovo and also won praise from western leaders for its restraint. But while government forces now control the strategic heights west of Tetovo, our correspondent reports that many fighters appear to have escaped into the Sar Mountains further to the northwest -- and that some have crossed into the UN-administered province of Kosovo.

There are concerns in Skopje that the fighters could return to wage skirmishes with government forces for months to come.

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski signaled last night the operation is not finished yet. He said talks on reforms with elected ethnic Albanian officials would not begin until the extremists are driven out of Macedonian territory.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson commended the restraint and firmness of the offensive. EU security and foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Skopje's handling of the crisis has not set back an EU association and stability agreement due to be signed on April 9.

Both made the remarks after meeting Trajkovski in Skopje late last night.

The United States says Washington will do what it can to try to help Macedonia in its battle against ethnic Albanian fighters.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the Macedonian situation yesterday with visiting French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine. Powell reiterated U.S. support for Macedonia's territorial integrity and independence.

"We are looking at things that the United States might be able to do to enhance the capability of the Macedonian armed forces to deal with this crisis."

Powell said at a news conference that the Macedonian army seemed to be making headway against the ethnic Albanian fighters, who launched a siege on Tetovo on March 14.

In a telephone conversation on Sunday, Powell said he told Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski that the U.S. supports him.

However, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said last week the administration had no plan to send American troops to help Macedonia.

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