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Slayings Have Macedonia On Edge

Policemen leave their vehicles to block the road on April 13, one day after news that five dead bodies were found by a local fisherman near the village of Smiljkovci.
Ethnic tensions have resurfaced in Macedonia following the announcement of the murder of the five men on the outskirts of the capital, Skopje.

The killings have aggravated relations between Macedonians and the ethnic Albanian minority.

Police said the five men were shot dead execution-style near a lake outside Skopje and their bodies found by fishermen late on April 12. All of the victims were reportedly ethnic Macedonians.

Angry Macedonians blocked several streets in the area on April 13, and police were deployed to prevent clashes. Authorities have so far made no statement about a possible motive for the killings.

Residents of the village of Smiljkovci, where the bodies were found, expressed fears the murders could be a sign a worsening relations between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians.

"What happened last night was very tragic -- young people, I feel very sorry for their families," Violeta Mitreska, of Smiljkovic, said. "I don't know what to say. I hope that this will not endanger coexistence between Macedonians and Albanians in Macedonia."

In 2001, there was fighting between government security forces and ethnic Albanian fighters. Western diplomats intervened, sending in NATO forces and preventing the Macedonian unrest from becoming a civil war.

Last month, several people were injured and scores arrested when young people, both ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, attacked buses and each other using knives, iron bars, and baseball bats sticks during several days of rioting. Four of the five men killed in Smiljkovci were in their 20s, the fifth was in his 40s.

Dejan Nedelkovski of Smiljkovci said the killings coming so soon after the March unrest in Skopje has him worried.

"I condemn this act, the situation just calmed down after the incidents which happened a month ago on buses, which threatened ethnic relations," ," Nedelkovski said in a reference to the Skopje incidents. "Finally I thought that the situation calmed down, and now we have this."

The timing of the killings, just before April 15 celebration of Orthodox Easter in a country where the majority Macedonians are generally Christians, has Macedonian officials concerned.

President Gjorge Ivanov urged "restraint by all."

The OSCE's chairman-in-office, Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore, has called for authorities in Macedonian to swiftly investigate the murders of five young Macedonian men earlier this week.

Gilmore said he welcomed "the swift action by the authorities and trust that this horrific incident will be fully investigated, bringing those responsible to justice."

"I join the appeals by the country’s political leaders and our international partners for the people to remain calm and refrain from any actions that could increase tensions between the communities," Gilmore added.

Angry Macedonians blocked several streets in the area on April 13, and police were deployed to prevent clashes.

Officials said extra police would remain on duty for an undetermined time to ensure there are no outbreaks of violence between the Macedonian and Albanian communities.

Based on Reuters and RFE/RL reporting