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Macedonia: Army Launches Offensive Near Kosovo Border

Skopje, 28 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Macedonian army today launched a fresh offensive to clear ethnic Albanian fighters from hills along the border with Kosovo, in the north of Macedonia. Reports say mortar fire could be heard from the region around the village of Gracani, where fighting was also reported yesterday.

Earlier this week, the army dislodged ethnic Albanian fighters from their positions around the city of Tetovo, in the northwest.

Government officials in Skopje said the crisis was nearly over. However, it was not known whether the rebels had pulled out altogether or were just regrouping for another fight.

Macedonian officials say that once the fighting is over, the government is ready for a broader dialogue on multiethnic issues.

Imer Imeri, the leader of the ethnic Albanian opposition Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP) yesterday called for a dialogue -- but he said it should include constitutional changes to establish equal rights for ethnic Albanians.

"The serious talks by the Macedonian government and the (ethnic) ALbanian (elected officials) will start soon. But the fighting should stop first and one of the things we should talk about is the changing of the constitution (in order to establish equal rights for ethnic Albanians in Macedonia).

Both NATO and the European Union have urged the Macedonian government to seek a political solution to ethnic tensions.