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Macedonia: U.S. To Step Up Support For Skopje Government

Attacks on Macedonia's security forces by ethnic Albanian fighters continued today, barely 24 hours after U.S. President George W. Bush offered support to President Boris Trajkovski's efforts to find a political solution to the country's interethnic strife.

Prague, 3 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Two Macedonian soldiers were killed today in an ambush by ethnic Albanian insurgents.

Government officials say the attack occurred early this morning near the northern village of Vaksince. Another Macedonian solider is believed to have been kidnapped by the Albanian fighters during the attack.

The Macedonian government called for the evacuation of the village, a move which could indicate a government offensive near Vaksince -- which is only 5 kilometers south of the border with Serbia's Presevo Valley. Interior Ministry spokesman Stevo Pendarovski said residents of Vaksince and surrounding settlements had been called upon to leave the area before 1500 hours today.

The evacuation of Matejce, a village 10 kms south of Vaksince, was also ordered after two civilians were kidnapped there overnight. Matejce guards a mountain road that passes south across the Skopska Crna Gora mountain to the capital Skopje.

The latest outbreak of violence in Macedonia has drawn widespread international condemnation. Many fear it could jeopardize further talks between mainstream political parties on how to ease concerns raised by the ethnic Albanian minority.

The violence began over the weekend when four Macedonian soldiers and four policemen were killed by the insurgents. Their deaths triggered riots by Macedonian Slavs against ethnic Albanian civilians in the southwestern city of Bitola. Since Monday's funeral for the soldiers, more than 50 Albanian-owned shops have been destroyed in Bitola. Late Tuesday, masked assailants broke into an ethnic Albanian restaurant near Skopje and killed its owner.

As the violence continued, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski visited Washington this week to seek the support of top U.S. officials.

President George W. Bush told Trajkovski that his administration would step up its efforts to help Macedonia stem the ethnic Albanian insurgency. During a 30-minute meeting in the Oval Office, Bush said he was impressed with the Macedonian leader's efforts to bring about change through dialogue.

Tom Countryman, the director of the State Department's Office of South Central Europe, says U.S. officials are very concerned about the latest outbreak of violence in Macedonia.

"First we're deeply concerned about all violence in Macedonia, after being an example of peaceful interethnic democracy for the past years. Having any violence at all is an increase. You do need to keep in perspective [that] in the last two months, while [violence was] very high by Macedonian history, [it] is not very high by regional history."

Countryman condemned the use of violence by ethnic Albanian fighters. He noted that the insurgent groups have been labeled as terrorist organizations by the U.S. Secretary of State.

"There is a serious threat from organizations -- partly ideological, partly criminal -- of ethnic Albanians, which our Secretary of State has labeled terrorist organizations. And they appear determined to pursue their goals by violence. We've condemned that. It's not in the interests of any of the Albanians of Macedonia or of Kosovo or anywhere else. It works against their interests. And all the important leaders inside and outside Macedonia have condemned it as well."

Countryman said U.S. support for the Macedonia government will continue in the form of military and economic aid.

"We are already -- and have been for the past 10 years -- deeply supportive of the Macedonian people and the Macedonian government. We're giving over $55 million in aid -- both economic and military aid -- this year, targeted at Macedonia's specific problems. And we will continue to do that. There was no announcement of major new spending initiatives during President Trajkovski's visit here. But we will continue to work very closely with the Macedonian government to do whatever we can to help them meet their own security and economic needs."

The U.S. provided funding and training to Kosovo Liberation Army rebels when they were battling Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. Now, Countryman says, anti-terrorism training is being made available to the Macedonian government to help it deal with the ethnic Albanian fighters -- some of whom come from across the border in Kosovo.

During last autumn's presidential election campaign, Bush said he would reconsider the United States' troop commitments in the Balkans. But with the continuing violence in Macedonia, it is unlikely Washington will be able to reduce its military support in the foreseeable future.