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Macedonia: Moderate Military Action Wins Western Praise

Tetovo, Macedonia; 28 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Macedonian government is basking in praise from the European Union and NATO for the way it has dealt with an ethnic-Albanian insurgency near the northwestern city of Tetovo. But officials say they are braced for urban terrorist strikes elsewhere in the country.

The Macedonian president's national security adviser, Nikola Dimitrov, says the guerrillas may now adopt new methods. He said his forces have to be especially on guard against urban terrorism.

European Union security chief Javier Solana this week visited Macedonia, including Tetovo, where security forces battled for nearly two weeks with ethnic Albanian fighters before driving them off hillside strong points in an offensive over the weekend.

Solana praised the Macedonian government for what he called its "proportional" military response to the insurgents. Speaking to the European Parliament in Brussels today, Solana said:

"The operation, from our point of view, after having visited the region, we can say that it has been a proportional response to the military threat which helped to destabilize the situation."

Solana cautioned, however, that the situation remains difficult. He pledged the EU would provide support to prevent the disintegration of the country:

"Altogether, to finalize the situation remains difficult, remains dangerous. The disintegration of the country remains the most dramatic nightmare of all the experts on the Balkans, and we have to do our best so that this does not take place."

Solana said the majority Slav community and the minority ethnic Albanians have to work together politically to avoid another Balkan conflict:

"We cannot accept any political demands [that will be made] through violence, through extremism, and therefore any of the demands that fairly have been [raised] should be solved politically."

The area around Tetovo today remains quiet, but reports say that fighting is continuing in the village of Gracani, near the border with Kosovo and about 10 kilometers northwest of the capital Skopje. Our correspondent was turned away by police yesterday when he tried to visit Gracani.

In Tetovo yesterday, Solana met with ethnic Albanian leader Arben Xhaferi, whose Democratic Albanian Party is a partner in the country's coalition government.

Xhaferi, who opposed the Macedonian military action, said the crisis had brought "enormous political pressures" on the legal political parties that represent ethnic Albanians in Macedonia.

Solana also met with Imer Imeri, the leader of the largest ethnic Albanian opposition party, the Party of Democratic Prosperity.

Imeri said he expected talks soon with the Macedonian government on improving the situation of the country's ethnic Albanians, who make up about one-third of the population.

"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 changing of the constitution [in order to establish equal rights for ethnic Albanians in Macedonia]."

Imeri told Solana that ethnic Albanians in Macedonia do not want to be part of a greater Kosovo, but want equal rights with Macedonians and the Albanian language to be an official language.

Macedonian officials say the ethnic Albanian fighters are being trained and supplied in neighboring Kosovo. But leaders of the insurgency have denied the Kosovo link. They say the majority of their members are from Macedonia and that they are fighting to improve the situation of ethnic Albanians living in Macedonia.

On Monday (March 26) in Skopje, Solana joined NATO Secretary-General George Robertson in a meeting with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski. Robertson also praised Macedonian forces for what he called the "firm but restrained" way they reacted to the provocations of the last few weeks.

(RFE/RL's Ronald Synovitz in Skopje contributed to this report.)