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Fighting Ends In Northern Macedonia

A Macedonian armored personnel carrier in Kumanovo, where security forces fought an armed group.

Fighting between security forces and members of an armed group in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo has ended after nearly two days of violence and many casualties.

The Interior Ministry said a "terrorist group" in the town has been "neutralized" and "eliminated."

Officials say eight police officers and 14 gunmen have been killed in fighting between security services and the armed group which started on May 9.

Interior Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski said on May 10 that 37 police officers were also wounded in the operation.

He said no civilians were reported killed.

Kotevski said some of the gunmen were wearing the insignia of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), the disbanded ethnic Albanian paramilitary group.

Kumanovo is close to the borders of both Serbia and Kosovo.

Macedonian police involved in the antiterrorist operation in Kumanovo.
Macedonian police involved in the antiterrorist operation in Kumanovo.

Kotevski said more than 30 members of the armed group had surrendered on May 9, but that others refused to give up arms and fought from houses located in Diva Naselba, a neighborhood in western Kumanovo.

He added that all of those who had turned themselves in were Macedonian citizens except for one, who had Albanian citizenship.

Kotevski said a large number of weapons were also found.

He said those who were detained will be brought to court to face charges later on May 10.

An Interior Ministry official had earlier said the “terrorist group" in Kumanovo was a threat to Macedonia’s state institutions and to peace and stability in the country.

The government declared two days of mourning for the victims.

The European Union and NATO voiced concern over the violence in the Balkan nation that has a history of ethnic hostilities.

"Any further escalation must be avoided, not the least in the interest of the overall stability in the country," EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a statement, expressing "deep concern."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged restraint in Macedonia and called for a transparent investigation.

"I am following the developments in Kumanovo with great concern," Stoltenberg said in a statement on May 10.

"It is important that all political and community leaders work together to restore calm and conduct a transparent investigation to establish what happened," he said.

The incident comes less than three weeks after around 40 ethnic Albanians from neighboring Kosovo briefly seized control of a police station on Macedonia's northern border, demanding the creation of an Albanian state in the country.

Ethnic Albanians make up around one quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million people.

Macedonia obtained EU candidate status in 2005, but has not yet began accession talks.

Kumanovo is an ethnically mixed town located 40 kilometers northeast of Skopje.

People in Kumanovo are evacuated near a police checkpoint.
People in Kumanovo are evacuated near a police checkpoint.

The region was one of two areas in Macedonia that saw hostilities between ethnic-Albanian rebels and government forces during an ethnic conflict in 2001.

The latest violence is likely to deepen concern over stability in Macedonia, where the government is under public pressure over allegations by the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, of illegal wire-tapping and widespread abuse of office.

Protesters demanding the resignation of conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski clashed with police this week and the opposition is threatening to rally thousands again on May 17.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters