- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

TETOVO, Macedonia — The Macedonian government yesterday announced that ethnic Albanian rebels, threatened with a major offensive, had agreed to withdraw from captured territory, assuaging some of the fear of a full-scale civil war that had sent thousands of residents fleeing the country's second-largest city.
In recent days, the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army overran four villages surrounding Tetovo and clashed with government troops at the city's outskirts.
Macedonia's Defense Ministry said that under the deal worked out by NATO, the rebels would pull back from those villages by dawn today. The agreement followed a government ultimatum to the rebels to retreat or face an all-out assault.
The fighting around Tetovo prompted scores of anti-government protesters yesterday to force their way into parliament in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, demanding a major offensive against the rebels.
Calling the situation "critical," NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said he and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana would fly to Macedonia today for urgent mediation to prevent the troubled Balkan country from descending into full-scale civil war.
"Any efforts to resolve the situation militarily can only result in the wreckage of the country and the inflicting of grave civilian casualties," Mr. Robertson said.
The turmoil in Macedonia came amid growing calls in Washington for the United States to scale back its military commitment in the Balkans.
"The United States should not be engaged in the hot spots around the world without a time limit," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican.
"The United States will not sustain another operation like this," Mr. Rohrabacher told a hearing of the House International Relations Committee.
The hearing was called to examine the success of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord that ended the war in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina with the help of U.S. soldiers.
In Macedonia, Skopje's A1 TV network reported some shooting in Tetovo. A car carrying fleeing Slavic Macedonians reportedly also came under fire.
Hours earlier, the hard-line lawmakers in Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's governing party called for imposing a state of emergency and an "urgent" special session of parliament — a request Mr. Georgievski made unsuccessfully several times before.
However, President Boris Trajkovski, apparently seeking to counterbalance the hard-liners who had accused international envoys of siding with the rebels, said, "We have to realize that only partnership with the international community can restore peace and stability in Macedonia."
Underscoring how tensions have soared in the Albanian-majority city, ethnic Albanian Ilir Hoxha, 25, said simply of the Slavic Macedonians: "Let them leave. They should never return. Tetovo is Albanian and it will remain Albanian."
The exodus of majority Macedonians from the city came after fierce fighting there on Sunday and Monday between ethnic Albanian militants and government security forces. The clashes, the worst in months, broke a fragile cease-fire and dimmed hopes that peace talks that collapsed last week could be revived.
Meanwhile, at yesterday's congressional hearing on the Dayton Peace Accord, religious leaders urged the United States not to pull out of Bosnia.
"I would like America to realize that they should not leave the child alone. You must teach that child Bosnia-Herzegovina, to walk on its own," said Cardinal Vinko Puljic.
"Given the present frustrations and shared difficulties, all citizens and ethnic communities of Bosnia-Herzegovina need a strong United States presence in order to build up a democratic, economically prosperous and tolerant civil society," Cardinal Puljic said.
The bishop of Mostar, Monsignor Ratko Peric, said "there can be no peace without the active presence of international forces."
Staff writer Anna Lea Flatow contributed to this report in Washington.

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