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Macedonia: Trajkovski Buried In Skopje With State Honors As World Leaders Praise His Courage

Prague, 5 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, who died in a plane crash last week, was buried today in a state funeral in the capital, Skopje.

Thousands of people lined the streets of the capital as the funeral procession made its way to the cemetery where Trajkovski was buried with full state and military honors.

Leaders from dozens of nations and high-ranking international officials gathered in Skopje amid tight security to pay their last respects. Tributes poured in from around the world, including from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II.

Trajkovski was considered a moderate, pro-Western leader who in 2001 helped negotiate an end to a six-month-long conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents and Macedonian security forces.

In a speech today, Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski hailed Trajkovski for helping to avert civil war three years ago. "In 2001, you deserved most credit for preventing a catastrophe," he said. "You stood dignified in the face of criticism. You were accused of being a traitor, yet you did the most patriotic act. You were accused of being a coward, yet you did the most courageous deed. It was you more than anybody else who stopped the war and brought us back peace."

Trajkovski promoted cooperation among neighboring countries with a readiness to compromise often lacking in the war-scarred Balkans.

European Commission President Romano Prodi, speaking at the funeral ceremony today, praised Trajkovski as a fervent supporter of Macedonia's integration into the EU. "Europe was the guiding star on Boris's journey. The values of tolerance and respect, on which our [European] Union is founded, were an inspiration to him in the very difficult times this country and all its people have seen," Prodi said.

Trajkovski, in one of his last acts as president, signed Macedonia's formal application for EU membership. Prodi today called on the Macedonian government to proceed with reforms needed for membership and said the EU had faith in Macedonia's political future.

Trajkovski died when the plane taking him and a delegation to an international conference on 26 February went down in heavy fog over southern Bosnia-Herzegovina. All nine people on board were killed. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Crvenkovski has asked NATO to help clear up the circumstances of Trajkovski's death. Reports in the Macedonian and Bosnian media suggest errors by French troops serving as air-traffic controllers with the NATO-led peacekeepers in Bosnia may have committed errors that caused the plane crash.

An investigating commission set up by authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina is due to reveal its findings in one month.

No official date has been set yet for a new presidential election.