Renewed Fighting In Macedonia

Detonations shook the hills above Tetovo Wednesday, marking the resumption of fighting between ethnic Albanian insurgents and the army near Macedonia's second-largest city.

Government authorities recently declared the rebels defeated in the region, but the sounds of battle reflected their continued strength despite several major government offensives against them.

On Tuesday, eight policemen were wounded near the village of Lisec, on the Tetovo-Popova Sapka road, when their cars were targeted by mortar fire, police said. Six remained in the hospital Wednesday.

The sounds of fighting ceased before noon above Tetovo, and low cloud and rain hung over the mountaintops.

"The situation is now calm but still unclear," said Col. Blagoja Markovski, the army spokesman, suggesting that poor visibility had led to the lull.

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To the northeast, the Kumanovo area also was quiet Wednesday after clashes that lasted late into the previous evening. Refugees from that region spoke of a raid Monday on their village by black-clad government troops flown in by helicopter.

"They burned the houses with gasoline and lighters," refugee Agim Hyseni said from a hospital room in the Kosovo town of Gnjilane.

Hyseni said the torchings and shell-fire left the entire village of about 60 houses aflame and forced its inhabitants to flee. About 40 of them escaped to Kosovo, he said. Hyseni and other members of his family claimed there were no guerrillas in the village.

Macedonia's security council reviewed the crisis late Tuesday and decided that talking with the militants remained out of the question. The government has long insisted that the rebels are terrorists bent on carving off a piece of the country and uniting it with Albania or Kosovo.

The clashes followed tentative gains made by the army in clashes with insurgents in northern villages where thousands of civilians remain trapped as the army continues its offensive.

"There's every reason for concern over the state of refugees in these villages," said the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross's mission in Macedonia, Francois Steamm. "The time spent in cellars is takinits toll on the population both physically and psychologically."

The government claims that refugees are being used as human shields. Steamm said that the ICRC "does not exclude some kind of pressure, but there's also a strong sense of solidarity" among the civilians with the rebels. He did not elaborate further.

The intensity of the fighting underscored earlier government threats to "eliminate" the rebels unless they abandon their armed struggle.

Also Wednesday, Bulgaria said Macedonia needed the help of an international force to cope with the ethnic Albanian insurgency.

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"The situation is very worrying … We increasingly doubt whether the Macedonian authorities can handle the situation by themselves," Bulgarian Defence Minister Boiko Noev told reporters before the cabinet's weekly session.

The multinational forces should not include troops from neighboring states, he said. Bulgaria has sent a wide range of military supplies to the Macedonian army in the two past months.

Bulgaria traditionally has strong historic and cultural ties with Macedonia and fears continued fighting would threaten its own stability during its transition between governments following a general election in three weeks time.

Fighting first erupted in February, when guerrillas launched a rebellion to win more rights for ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, who make up as much as a third of the population of 2 million. The government accuses the rebels of trying to divide the country.

International leaders have urged the Macedonian army to use restraint to prevent another war in the Balkans.

In an effort to seek a political solution to the conflict, Macedonia's major political parties, including those of the ethnic Albanians, formed a unity government last weekend.

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