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Macedonia: Government Forces Ready For Battle

Skopje, 22 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonians are bracing for battles in the northern part of their country today after ethnic Albanian fighters failed to meet the conditions of a government ultimatum. Shortly after the government's midnight deadline expired, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said security forces would, in his words, "neutralize and eliminate" the fighters. The government has mobilized tanks, heavy artillery and hundreds of troops at the northwestern town of Tetovo. Armed forces also have been deployed across much of northern Macedonia in an attempt to cut the militants' supply routes. More than 10,000 civilians had fled the Tetovo region by late yesterday.

The militants offered a cease-fire late last night, but refused to heed government demands to lay down their weapons and surrender, or to retreat into Kosovo, until officials in Skopje negotiate with them.

Macedonian government spokesman Antonio Milososki says the government will not negotiate further -- a position supported by the European Union.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution last night condemning violence by the militants as terrorism.