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Macedonian Encyclopedia Sparks Balkan Ethnic Row

SKOPJE (Reuters) -- Macedonia's leading academic institution has said it will revise a new encyclopedia after protests by the Balkan country's Albanian minority as well as in neighboring Kosovo and Albania.

The row has highlighted the still fragile ethnic balance which led to fighting in Macedonia in 2001 and wars during the 1990s elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia.

The encyclopedia sparked outrage by saying ethnic Albanians settled the region in 16th century. Albanians say they were present long before Slavic tribes arrived centuries ago.

It also refers to Ali Ahmeti, leader of country's 2001 ethnic Albanian insurgency, as a war crimes suspect.

Ahmeti now heads the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, which is a junior partner in the government. The Netherlands-based UN war crimes court has investigated atrocities in the conflict but never implicated Ahmeti.

"While [the encyclopedia] will be partly rewritten, the edition will not be withdrawn," Georgi Stardelov, head of the editorial committee of Macedonia's Academy of Sciences and Arts, said in a statement on September 24.

The book was first promoted last week as a key national document at an event attended by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

Albanian media quoted Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha as saying the encyclopedia was "absurd and unacceptable" and said he warned Macedonian President Georgi Ivanov that no one can build "identity based on the forgery of history."

In Kosovo, which has unresolved border issues with Macedonia, parliament president Jakup Krasniqi said that Skopje was "isolating itself and making enemies."

Ethnic Albanians account for a quarter of the population in the nation of two million which peacefully seceded from Yugoslavia in 1992.

In 2001 ethnic Albanians launched an insurgency which ended after a Western-brokered peace deal disarmed rebels in exchange for broader Albanian rights and their inclusion in the society, something which riles many Macedonians who are Slavs.

Some Macedonian academics criticized the book as hastily prepared and politically motivated. "Any encyclopedia cannot be written under the influence of politicians," said Milan Gjurcinov, an Academy of Arts and Sciences member. "It is a book teeming with politics and that's not good."

Gjurcinov warned that a similar dispute between Serb and Croat academics in the 1980s contributed to the rise of nationalism that led to the bloody breakup of former Yugoslavia.