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Macedonia: Villagers Flee To Kosovo

Blace, Macedonia; 7 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Hundreds of ethnic Albanians refugees crossed into Kosovo today to escape the latest fighting in Macedonia. The United Nations' refugee agency, the UNHCR, says more than 3,000 people have fled Macedonia since violence erupted in the northeastern part of the country a week ago.

Correspondents say some 300 people today crossed from Blace, Macedonia into southern Kosovo. Many of the refugees said they were from the Kumanovo area -- where Macedonian forces have been using artillery, tanks, and helicopters in an attempt to drive out ethnic Albanian fighters from the villages of Vaksince and Slupcane.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said in Skopje today that Macedonia is on the brink of a calamity as fighting continues between government troops and ethnic Albanian extremists.

Speaking after talks with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and government and party leaders in Skopje, Robertson said Macedonians must stop the country's crisis from deteriorating into a disaster.

"This country is on the edge of an abyss and we've got to pull back from it. There has to be a proportionate response, but a determined response against the criminal extremists who seek to destabilize this democracy."

Robertson and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana both tried to persuade Macedonian political leaders today that they should not impose a state of war -- a declaration that requires support from two-thirds of the parliament.

Earlier today, Macedonia's moderate ethnic Albanian party threatened to quit the governing coalition if parliament votes to impose a state of war.

Arben Xhaferi, leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians, said he and his party oppose "the tendency to militarize the state."