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Macedonia: Serious Clashes Threaten Cease-fire

Skopje, 18 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Colonel Blagoja Markovski, a spokesman for Macedonia's armed forces, says government troops and ethnic Albanian militants exchanged artillery fire today near the northern villages of Slupcane and Nikustak. Reports say the clashes were the most serious since the government announced one week ago to halt operations against the militants.

The fighting came as politicians from all of Macedonia's elected parties in parliament were due to continue with talks launched last week to craft a political solution to the crisis.

The talks reportedly are deadlocked over Albanian demands for the constitution to be amended.

A major obstacle is the constitution's preamble -- which labels Albanians as one of several minorities in a country of "the Macedonian people." Albanian leaders want the preamble to say that ethnic Albanians are among Macedonia's founding peoples.

In other developments, Macedonia and China have formally resumed diplomatic relations, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.

The news agency said a joint communique was signed today in Beijing by Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva and Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan.

Xinhua says Macedonia has acknowledged Beijing's "One China" principle and has promised not to make official contact with Taiwan.

The "One China" principle states that the communist government in Beijing governs the whole of China, including the island of Taiwan, which has ruled itself separately from the mainland since the end of China's civil war in 1949.

Earlier today, Taiwan broke off ties with Macedonia and ended all economic aid to Skopje. Macedonia had recognized Taiwan in 1999, sparking a negative reaction from the Chinese leadership.