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Macedonia: Heavy Fighting Reported Outside Tetovo

Skopje, 4 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Heavy fighting was reported today between Macedonia's government forces and ethnic Albanian fighters, who say they are fighting for minority rights. Defense Ministry spokesman Georgi Trendafilov said rebels early today opened fire on military positions outside of Tetovo, 35 km west of the capital Skopje. He said government forces responded with tanks, mortars, and machine guns.

There were no reports of casualties.

Ethnic Albanian guerilla leader Commander Sokoli issued a statement warning that if Macedonian government forces do not stop shelling the village of Likove today, his men will attack key targets such as Skopje's airport and oil refinery. Sokoli's threat was carried in the ethnic Albanian "Fakti" newspaper.

The latest clashes come as Macedonian Slav and ethnic Albanian political parties struggle to agree on whether to use military or political means in dealing with the ethnic Albanian fighters.

Late yesterday, Macedonia's Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said early elections may be the best way to end the political impasse. There was no immediate comment from ethnic Albanian political leaders on the proposal. The insurgency started in February.

In a related development, Yugoslavia and Macedonia signed an agreement today to boost security along their joint border and enable Skopje to buy arms from Belgrade.

The accord was signed in Skopje by Yugoslavia's visiting defense minister, Slobodan Krapovic, and Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski. Buckovski said it is "no secret" that Macedonia needs weapons.

Krapovic said the accord included a possibility for the sale of "some Yugoslav military products" to Macedonia, but gave no details.

Both Macedonia and Yugoslavia say pro-independence forces in Kosovo are backing the ethnic Albanian separatist movements in Macedonia and southern Serbia proper.

For more on the current situation in Macedonia, please see Macedonia: Clashes Continue As Political Talks Make No Headway.