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Macedonia: EU, NATO Back Territorial Integrity

Brussels, 19 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- European Union foreign ministers adopted a declaration today that condemns attempts by "ethnic Albanian extremists" to destabilize Macedonia. The declaration from Brussels says the EU will not tolerate attempts to compromise Macedonia's sovereignty or territorial integrity.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson echoed that declaration after meeting Macedonian Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim in Brussels.

"We will not contemplate the changing of boundaries by violence and we will not contemplate the breaking up of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, and those who try to seek that by whatever means are doomed to failure."

Kerim said ethnic Albanians behind the fighting are trying to impose a concept that "wherever Albanians live is Albanian territory." But leaders of the insurgency have said they are fighting to expand the rights of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia.

Bosnia-Herzegovina's international administrator, Wolfgang Petritsch, told EU foreign ministers that unrest spreading from Macedonia is emboldening nationalistic forces and could jeopardize efforts to develop democratic reforms throughout the Balkans.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica in Belgrade today and they jointly condemned ethnic Albanian insurgents in Macedonia and southern Serbia.

Ivanov accused ethnic Albanians in Kosovo of being the source of the instability that has spread east and south of the Yugoslav province administered by the UN and NATO.

Ivanov also delivered a message to Kostunica from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin press service quoted Putin as saying in the message that the international community needs to take "decisive political actions" and use force if necessary to prevent the conflict from spreading.

Ivanov is in the region to visit Macedonia, Kosovo, and Belgrade for talks on defusing tensions in the region.

The United Nations refugee agency said today that several thousand Macedonians have fled into neighboring countries to escape the fighting between government forces and ethnic Albanian insurgents. The agency said from Pristina that around 1,600 Macedonians crossed into Albania and another 480 crossed into Kosovo recently. Two years ago, hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians refugees headed in the opposite direction during Belgrade's brutal crackdown on the province.

The Serbian Red Cross said around 1,500 people from Macedonia have sought refuge in southern Serbia since Saturday. Most of the refugees were ethnic Albanians who said they were heading for Bosnia and Croatia. Reports from Bujanovac say ethnic Albanian militants have violated a cease-fire agreement by firing on security forces in the buffer zone separating the rest of southern Serbia from Kosovo.

A Yugoslav government statement issued in the town of Bujanovac said the militants late yesterday and early today fired a number of sniper shots and bursts from light weapons on Serbian police and army outposts in the buffer zone. No casualties were reported and security forces did not return fire.

The Macedonian government sent four tanks and reinforcements into Tetovo today where government security forces have been fighting ethnic Albanian insurgents for six days.

The cease-fire took effect last week. Yugoslav army troops moved into a 5-kilometer-wide area of the buffer zone to put an end to militants' attacks on Serbian police and to stem the flow of weapons into neighboring Macedonia.

Today, a NATO negotiating team met with Serbian officials at a border crossing with Kosovo to discuss ways to normalize the situation in the area.