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Macedonia: Albanian Fighters Face Government Ultimatum

Skopje, 17 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Ethnic Albanian fighters in Macedonia are facing a government ultimatum to either lay down their arms by noon today or face a major assault by the Macedonian military. Appearing yesterday on Macedonian television, President Boris Trajkovski said a non-violent solution to ethnic Albanian demands for more rights required patience and determination. He said the alternative was a "divided society in whirlwind of war."

The United Nations refugee agency said yesterday that 9,000 Albanians have fled their homes in Macedonia for Kosovo since 3 May when fighting began between Macedonian troops and ethnic Albanian fighters. But thousands are still believed trapped in their homes in rebel-held villages in the north.

Trajkovski said his forces will do their best to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. He blamed the rebels for choosing "to shield themselves with civilians."

There was more fighting yesterday. A Macedonian army spokesman, Blagoja Markovski, said there had been new insurgent attacks in the north.