Macedonia Lashes Out

The Macedonian government Tuesday lashed out at NATO and international peace mediators, accusing them of backing ethnic Albanian guerrillas in their rebellion against the state.

"NATO is not our enemy but it is a great friend of our enemies who are attacking the future of our country," government spokesman Antonio Milosovski told Reuters.

Milosovski said United States envoy James Pardew and European Union mediator Francois Leotard had blamed Macedonian security forces for breaking a cease-fire and starting hours of vicious fighting in the flash point town of Tetovo Monday.

"That is a big lie, the biggest we have heard. It removes all doubt that they are not objective," said Milosovski.

The outburst will sour relations between the government and the West and make it extremely difficult to resurrect the peace talks that Pardew and Leotard are mediating. Western diplomats have become increasingly exasperated at what they see as efforts by hard-liner in the Macedonian government to block a peace deal.

Also on Tuesday, Macedonian authorities shut all border crossings into the
Albanian-dominated province of Kosovo without explanation, a spokesman for the local United Nations mission told Reuters.

"The Macedonian authorities informed us on Tuesday around 3:30 p.m. that they will close the border at 4 p.m.," said Andrea Angelli, spokesman for the U.N. Mission in Kosovo.

All civilians and international officials from the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and from aid agencies were being blocked from crossing the border, unlike during two closures in March, from which they were exempted.

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