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Macedonia: Albanian Rebels Say They Killed In Self-Defense

Tirana, 30 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Ethnic Albanian rebels said today they had acted in self-defense in a clash in which eight Macedonian security troops were killed on Saturday. The political leader of the rebel National Liberation Army (UCK), Ali Ahmeti, told Reuters by telephone, "we consider it as a provocation by the Macedonian forces so that they could present themselves as the victim."

Ahmeti says the UCK rebels opened fire in self-defense after Macedonian troops approached their positions. He says no UCK soldiers were killed or wounded during the clash.

Macedonia's Interior Ministry said yesterday four policemen and four soldiers were killed when gunmen attacked a checkpoint northwest of Tetovo.

Ahmeti denies the attack means the UCK is launching a new offensive, saying that "since the Albanian issue has gained momentum, it was not in our interest to attack."

Reports from Skopje say today is a national day of mourning in Macedonia, where flags are flying at half-mast to honor the eight Macedonian soldiers and policemen killed by ethnic Albanian fighters. Five of the officers are being buried today, and three funerals were held yesterday.

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski is leaving an environmental meeting in Bucharest early and traveling to the U.S. today to seek support "to eradicate terrorist groups" and to promote political dialog between Macedonians and the Albanian minority.

Trajkovski said his government will show "no mercy" in its efforts to find and punish the militants responsible for the killings near the Kosovo border Saturday.

There had been a month-long lull in fighting between Macedonian troops and ethnic Albanian rebels along the Kosovo border that erupted in February, but the government has now reinforced troops in border areas and reimposed a curfew in the town of Tetevo, the center of the conflict.