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Tuesday April 3, 2001

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Arms seized, Kosovo fighting continues

By The Associated Press

SKOPJE, Macedonia - Ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian forces skirmished yesterday on the tense border with Kosovo, breaking a two-day lull in the fighting. Macedonia said one of the rebels was wounded in the exchange of small-arms fire.

Meanwhile, demonstrators jeered a European security envoy seeking to quell tensions in the former Yugoslav republic, and an ethnic Albanian party boycotted government-initiated talks on reforms.

Also yesterday, the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo said it seized a substantial arms cache near the village of Krivenik, just across the frontier. The peacekeepers found an abandoned guerrilla encampment with 32 rocket-propelled grenades and 80 boxes of small-arms ammunition, said spokeswoman Capt. Alayne Cramer.

It was the latest such discovery of rebel weaponry in recent days by the peacekeepers, who have pledged to help stop guerrilla infiltration of Macedonia from Kosovo.

The latest exchange of gunfire on the border, reported by Macedonia's military, followed a 48-hour lull in clashes between the army and rebels. Army spokesman Blagoja Markovski said three rebels fired shots at Macedonian troops near the mountain village of Selce, a former guerrilla stronghold in the hills above Tetovo, the country's second-largest city.

The army returned fire, wounding one of the rebels, Markovski said. The injured man was taken to a military hospital, he said.

The military had said over the weekend that a weeklong drive to push guerrillas back across the border into Kosovo had been a success. The rebels said they were merely regrouping elsewhere in the steep, inaccessible hills.

Earlier, about 60 demonstrators from Macedonia's Slav majority shouted angry slogans as the European Union's security chief, Javier Solana, arrived in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, for talks with President Boris Trajkovski and other officials.

"Leave our constitution alone!" the protesters yelled, referring to speculation that the preamble of Macedonia's constitution could be rewritten to be more inclusive of the country's sizable ethnic Albanian minority.

Trajkovski also met with domestic political leaders, including ethnic Albanians - the first such substantive talks since last week's government military offensive against rebels in the border mountains.

"We are going to continue a dialogue that will allow all sectors, all inhabitants of this country to benefit," Trajkovski told reporters after 31/2 hours of closed-door talks, to which all parties represented in parliament were invited. "We want to create a society of individuals, not ethnic groups."

No concrete proposals for reform were announced yesterday.

Macedonia gained independence a decade ago, the only former Yugoslav republic to do so peacefully. Although the fighting has been relatively small-scale so far, observers fear it could boil over into a civil war that could destabilize the entire region.