- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

SKOPJE, Macedonia — The army chief of staff resigned yesterday in a surprise move that rocked Skopjes beleaguered government as hundreds of civilians demanded authorities give them weapons to fight ethnic Albanian rebels on the capitals outskirts.
A fragile cease-fire appeared to be holding yesterday, one day after both sides called for a halt in fighting and the government gave formal backing to a NATO-endorsed peace plan to end the ethnic Albanian insurgency.
Gen. Jovan Andrevski handed in his resignation because of "bad morale of his troops" and because he felt personally responsible for the loss of 26 young army soldiers killed in fighting with the National Liberation Army during the four-month ethnic Albanian rebellion, an army spokesman said.
President Boris Trajkovski replaced Gen. Andrevski with his deputy, Gen. Jovan Petkavski.
"Its rather unusual in Western terms for a commander to wear his heart on his feet," one Western diplomat said.
The commanders decision to quit heightened the impression that Macedonian authorities are losing control of events after the rebels on Friday moved to within six miles of Skopje, seizing the suburb of Aracinovo and threatening to shell the city and its airport.
Fierce fighting broke out yesterday afternoon between Macedonian forces and guerrillas north of the western city of Tetovo, threatening a cease-fire the government declared Monday to head off the rebel threat to attack the capital, Interior Ministry sources said.
The combat followed two ambushes of security force convoys near Tetovo in which nine police officers were wounded yesterday morning and Monday night.
The NATO-backed peace plan was outlined by Mr. Trajkovski last week and endorsed by the European Union and NATO.
Cabinet spokesman Antonio Milososki said the peace initiative had the Macedonian governments full support. But Arben Xhaferi, who heads one of two ethnic Albanian parties in the coalition, said the plan "must be restructured."
It envisions "combined military and political" actions to disarm the insurgents, repair damage done in four months of clashes, and negotiate a lasting settlement between the majority Slavic population and the ethnic Albanians who make up nearly a third of Macedonias 2 million people.
The rebels say they are fighting for more rights for ethnic Albanians, while the governments contend they are bent on carving out an independent state.
On the main Macedonian war front in the northern district of Kumanovo, authorities yesterday blocked an aid convoy from reaching rebel-held villages, refusing to give in to guerrilla demands for journalists to watch the reconnection of water to the provincial capital.
A line of 26 vehicles stacked with food and medical kits queued for five hours at an army checkpoint near Kumanovo, where 100,000 people have been without water for a week because the rebels control a nearby reservoir.
A rebel truce for 24 hours reached on Monday was set to lapse around Kumanovo, with possible consequences for the capital, unless the aid got through to ethnic Albanian civilians in the villages.
In Skopje, meanwhile, at least 200 Slavic Macedonian civilians in areas near Aracinovo and on the left bank of the city, where there is a large ethnic Albanian population, besieged a local police station and demanded that they be given weapons to defend themselves, interior ministry sources and witnesses said.
The independent daily newspaper Best reported that police had covertly distributed AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles to residents of the districts of Stajkovci, adjoining Aracinovo, and Gazibaba.
The report was denied by Interior Ministry spokesman Stevo Pendarovski, who said weapons only had been given to police reservists who were mobilized last week by Prime Minister Ljubco Georgevski.
Residents in Stajkovci confirmed they had gone to the police station at Gazibaba to ask for arms but said they had been turned away.
* This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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