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BBC, August 10, 2001
Macedonian troops killed by landmine


Eight Macedonian army soldiers have been killed and six injured after their truck hit three landmines.

A Macedonian army spokesman said the troops died when the vehicle in which they were travelling struck three mines, some 10 kilometres (6 miles) north of the capital, near the village of Ljubanci.

The incident is likely to further jeopardise a tentative peace plan which was agreed on Wednesday after 10 Macedonian soldiers were killed in an ambush.

Those 10 soldiers are due to be buried in their home town of Prilep later on Friday and it is feared that the funerals could inflame ethnic tensions once more - a mosque in the town was razed to the ground hours after the killings.

Violence erupts

Soon after the landmine incident there were reports of fighting between ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian troops erupting in the area.

Ethnic Albanian sources in Ljuboten, speaking to The Associated Press, said at least one house was "levelled" in the ethnic Albanian village, which was sealed off by government troops.

There are also reports of further fighting on the outskirts of Macedonia's second-largest city, Tetovo.

On Thursday Macedonian air force jets were used for the first time to bomb rebel positions around Tetovo.

Peace in tatters

Diplomats have described the use of warplanes as a serious escalation of the fighting and it has raised serious doubts about a Western-brokered peace plan due to be signed on Monday.

US envoy James Pardew, speaking in Sofia, Bulgaria on Friday, condemned the violence saying, "the use of force by the Albanian extremists in Macedonia is unacceptable and totally rejected by the United States."

But he said that he remained optimistic that a peace deal would be signed in Skopje on Monday as agreed by Macedonia's rival parties on Wednesday.

However, the BBC correspondent in Macedonia says the upsurge in fighting has left the peace deal agreed on Wednesday in tatters.

Diplomats said that the next few days would be crucial if the peace accord is to be salvaged.

"It doesn't look good," one said.

Fierce fighting

The rebels, who are demanding greater rights for ethnic Albanians, have been pushing forward in an attempt to seize Tetovo.

Thursday's air attacks followed a day of fighting in Tetovo between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels, with reports of rocket and small arms fire - and at least 10 civilians injured.

The latest fighting in Tetovo was described by a Macedonian army spokesman as some of the fiercest yet.

Macedonian radio said the city resembled a ghost town, with reports of shooting and explosions in the morning and afternoon.

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