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Macedonia: Army Shells Rebel Village Near Capital

Skopje, 22 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Macedonian army this morning opened fire on rebel-held positions outside the capital Skopje, using helicopter gunships, tanks, and mortars. Correspondents report smoke rising from buildings in the town of Aracinovo. Sporadic machine-gun fire could be heard coming from the rebels.

Macedonian Army Colonel Blagoja Markovski said the action is aimed, in his words, at "crushing and destroying terrorists."

The new clashes came after ethnic Albanian and Slav politicians resumed negotiations overnight as villagers fled new clashes between rebels and government forces. Hundreds of people fled Macedonia into Albania yesterday, fleeing the fighting.

The talks, which had broken off for six days, restarted in Skopje after European Union security chief Javier Solana came to the capital to bring the two sides together. Negotiations have been deadlocked over demands from the ethnic Albanian side for major constitutional changes to improve the Albanian minority's status in Macedonia.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said after meeting with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson yesterday that they are "hopeful" that a political solution can be reached in Macedonia. The two discussed a proposal to send an NATO mission with 3,000 troops to disarm rebels in Macedonia. Robertson said in a television interview that the composition of the force would probably be decided next week. NATO has said it will send the force only if a peace plan is adopted.