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Macedonian Police Move Into Towns

December 13, 2001

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GLODJE, Macedonia (AP) _ With villagers eyeing them coldly, Macedonian police moved into ethnic Albanian communities Thursday as part of an effort to re-establish control in the country gripped by fighting earlier this year.

The symbolic return of lightly armed police officers to the volatile northwest is included in a Western-brokered peace deal that ended a six-month insurgency by ethnic Albanian rebels against government forces.

NATO and European Union officials accompanied the police officers to 10 ethnic Albanian villages before the group met resistance.

``We are not going to let the police into our village,″ said Belush Ismaili, 70, in Dobroste, where locals blocked the road, preventing the patrols from continuing to five remaining villages.

Officials in the village said they would allow police in only after the government fulfilled all promises in the peace accord, dismantled police checkpoints and pledged amnesty for ex-rebels.

Even in the villages they managed to enter, the patrols of three ethnic Albanians and three Macedonian officers were coldly received.

``This is not going to end well,″ Xheladin, an ethnic Albanian farmer, said as a convoy of vehicles with officers and Western officials entered his dusty village.

Xheladin, 30, who declined to give his last name, said his community felt ``threatened″ by the officers.

The peace agreement, signed in August, granted the ethnic Albanian minority more rights in exchange for peace. Ethnic Albanians make up nearly a third of Macedonia’s 2 million population.

The rebels have surrendered 4,000 weapons, but still control some 10 percent of the country as the government has yet to keep its side of the bargain and enact broader rights for the minority.

Later Thursday, an ethnic Albanian died and another was wounded in a shootout with police not involved in the deployment in the villages. Police said the ethnic Albanians fired first in the gunfight on the boundary of the contested areas.

NATO spokesman Craig Ratcliff said the Thursday deployment was ``overall going very well.″

An earlier pilot project of bringing back Macedonian police to five ethnic Albanian villages was deemed a success.

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