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Macedonia: Fighting With Heavy Weapons Continues

Skopje, 19 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Fierce fighting between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian militants continued today around the city of Tetovo. The region has been the scene of five days of heavy government shelling and exchanges of gunfire. According to RFE/RL reports from the scene, government soldiers bombarded rebel positions on the hillsides, and the militants shelled the city from six positions around the city. A few buses and some cars returned to the streets this morning as the overnight curfew ended, but most stores remained shut.

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski ordered the curfew and restrictions on movements in the region. He told the nation yesterday that NATO powers are refusing to admit the fighters are coming from Kosovo, which is under UN administration and guarded by a NATO-led force.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim travels to Brussels today for talks with officials from the EU and NATO in a bid to seek support for his country in its struggle against ethnic Albanian fighters.

Georgievski told the nation that the West was allowing the creation of what he called a "new Taliban in Europe" -- a reference to Afghanistan's hard-line Islamic movement.

In Belgrade, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned the situation in Macedonia threatened stability in the whole Balkans. In the Balkans on a week-long diplomatic mission, Ivanov is due today to meet Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic.

Also today, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana travels to Skopje on a two-day visit to express EU support for the Macedonian government in its effort to contend with the crisis.