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Macedonia: Violence Spreads To Western, Ethnic-Albanian Part Of The Country

Tetovo, Macedonia; 14 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Violence between ethnic Albanian militants and Macedonian authorities spread today to the western part of Macedonia -- an area where most of the country's ethnic Albanian population is concentrated.

RFE/RL's correspondent in the region reports that ethnic Albanian snipers today fired on police in the mountains near the predominantly ethnic Albanian town of Tetovo.

An Interior Ministry spokesman in Skopje, Stevo Pendarovski, has confirmed that clashes began in the late morning at the settlement of Kale near Tetovo. The fighting was about 20 kilometers from Macedonia's border with Albania and about 10 kilometers from the border with UN-administered Kosovo.

Pendarovski said two police patrols were attacked within an hour of each other. He said the situation is serious and that fighting was continuing into the late afternoon. He said special police units have been deployed.

Pendarovski gave no details on casualties. But reports say at least two police officers were injured by gunfire. Correspondents also report hearing mortar fire and seeing houses burning near Tetovo this afternoon.

The clashes at Kale could be heard in the center of Tetovo by about 3,000 ethnic Albanian demonstrators who were calling for talks between Skopje officials and ethnic Albanian militants further to the east near Macedonia's border with Kosovo and Serbia proper.

Our correspondent also reports that a television crew for Macedonia's private A-1 channel was beaten today in an attack by some Tetovo demonstrators.

In Pristina, KFOR spokesman Richard Heffer told RFE/RL that the multinational peacekeeping force in Kosovo has no direct information about the clashes near Tetovo.

KFOR monitors within Kosovo have been observing recent fighting just across the border in Macedonia between police and ethnic Albanian gunmen. Although there is a small KFOR support staff in Skopje and KFOR troops regularly pass through a transport corridor between Skopje and Kosovo, Heffer said there are no KFOR monitors close to Tetovo.

As a result, Heffer said any information about fighting near Tetovo would come to KFOR through Macedonian authorities.