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Macedonia: Ethnic Albanian Says Party Will Stay In Coalition

By Ronald Synovitz

Tetovo, 26 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Last week the head of the ethnic Albanian party in Macedonia's coalition government threatened to pull his party out of the coalition if a planned military offensive against Albanian rebels went too far.

Arben Xhaferi of the Democratic Party of Albanians, or PDSh, said his party would withdraw if civilians were wounded or if the Macedonian government adopted what he termed "the Yugoslav way of war" -- in other words if the army began targeting civilians and residential property. The withdrawal of the PDSh would have forced a collapse of the coalition.

That offensive began yesterday as Macedonian army and police units moved against ethnic Albanian fighters entrenched in the hills around the western, mostly ethnic-Albanian city of Tetovo.

While the number of civilian casualties from the action is not yet clear, the security forces appear to have used relative restraint so far in dealing with civilians.

Our correspondent, who is in Tetovo covering the fighting, spoke with Abedin Imeri, the president of the Tetovo branch of the PDSh. Imeri says his party will not leave the coalition:

"After the offensive, we will not leave the government. We will try to calm the situation and to create the conditions for a normal co-existence. So we will stay in the government, because the success of the offensive is the success of the PDSh."

Imeri acknowledges his party has come under increasing domestic pressure to oppose the military action. Yesterday, the main opposition ethnic Albanian party, the Party for Democratic Prosperity, said it was freezing its activities in parliament in protest at what it called the "aggressive" attitude of the army.

But Imeri says the offensive so far has not led to any civilian deaths:

"We have been against the offensive, but fortunately, the offensive is over, and it has not caused civilian casualties. ["Yugoslav"] methods were not used. There are no victims on any side."

Responding to our correspondent's report that he saw four ethnic Albanian civilians wounded at a Macedonian army checkpoint in Tetovo over the weekend, Imeri admits that civilians were hurt.

"That is true, we know that there are not four, but seven civilians wounded. But there are no deaths. Only three of them have more serious wounds. We have done everything to prevent casualties among civilians and we have been successful in this. There were no mass killings."

Imeri says that his party's priorities are to take care of those people displaced by the fighting and then to work peacefully to improve the legal situation of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian citizens:

"Actually, we are trying to calm the situation as quickly as possible and to take care of those who have been displaced from their homes, and then we will ask the government to [consider] the questions on Albanian-Macedonian rights. We would like to find a solution through dialogue, not under any pressure or with weapons. We are waiting and we are calling on the international community to be more active in finding a solution for Macedonia."

(Melazim Koci of the Albanian language unit contributed to this report.)