Macedonia on edge of stability after 3 police officers killed

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

SEMSOVO, Macedonia -- Hundreds of Macedonian police officers converged on two villages in the Balkan country's ethnically tense northwest on Monday, attempting to prevent the escape of ethnic Albanian gunmen they said killed three police officers and took dozens of hostages.

Riding armored personnel carriers and jeeps, police fanned out around Semsovo and Trebos, where the three officers were killed and two others wounded Sunday during an abortive attempt to rescue hostages seized by gunmen in retaliation for the arrest of their comrades.

The hostages were freed Monday after Western envoys helped mediate a deal. The violence was among the worst in Macedonia since an August peace accord ended six months of fighting between ethnic Albanian rebels and government forces.

Dozens of people died and thousands fled their homes in northwestern Macedonia before the Western-brokered accord was reached. The rebels handed in some 4,000 weapons under the agreement and said they disbanded the rebel National Liberation Army.

In return, the Macedonian-dominated parliament is to approve constitutional reforms improving the status of the large ethnic Albanian minority, but those changes have been stalled amid bickering in the legislature, and tensions remain high.

Macedonians and ethnic Albanians have accused each other of jeopardizing the peace by acting in bad faith. President Boris Trajkovski's Cabinet issued a statement Monday saying the latest violence underlined the need for both sides to stick to their promises.

"The most important thing is to adopt the constitutional changes as soon as possible and not allow the further spreading of the armed conflict and violation of the cease-fire," the statement said.

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