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Macedonia Rioters Kill One

May 2, 2001

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SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) _ Rioters outraged by the slaying of Macedonian soldiers in an ambush by ethnic Albanian rebels killed one person and destroyed dozens of shops in a fresh round of violence, police said Wednesday.

Masked assailants armed with automatic weapons and baseball bats broke into an ethnic Albanian pizzeria late Tuesday in a suburb of Skopje, the capital, and shot and killed a man identified as Ismet Hoxha, police said.

Restaurant owner Ramadan Nuredini and his grandson were beaten by the attackers. Moments later, four masked assailants burst into a nearby ethnic Albanian shop, pummeling three workers, police said. The attackers fled before police arrived.

The rioting began early Tuesday, hours after a funeral was held for eight government commandos slain in a rebel ambush last week near the border with Kosovo.

Macedonian Slavs destroyed some 40 Albanian-owned stores and businesses in the city of Bitola, about 105 miles southwest of Skopje, throwing rocks, smashing goods and setting fire to the rubble. Bitola is about 15 percent ethnic Albanian.

The violence subsided for a time before resuming late Tuesday or early Wednesday, Macedonian state radio reported. Rioters destroyed and looted at least 10 ethnic Albanian and Muslim shops in the overnight melee.

``The outrageous murders of our eight commandos are no reason to victimize innocent civilians,″ said government spokesman Antonio Milososki, promising to punish ``all culprits.″

Ethnic Albanians comprise at least one-third of Macedonia’s 2 million people. They say they are treated as second-class citizens and are demanding that the Macedonian constitution be rewritten to upgrade their minority position to equal status with the majority Slavs. The government refuses, arguing that it would lead to a de facto division of the former Yugoslav republic.

In Washington on Tuesday, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski won support from top U.S. officials who pledged solidarity and economic support to the Macedonian government.

Secretary of State Colin Powell called the ethnic Albanian insurgents terrorists, trying to subvert Macedonia’s democratic process with ``dastardly and cowardly acts.″

Tensions were high in Skopje on Wednesday, as police beefed up their presence in the capital. Police said shots were fired at guard post at the Albanian Embassy in Skopje from a passing car Tuesday evening. No one was injured.

Albania sent a protest note asking Macedonia to ensure the safety of Albanian diplomats and increase security around the embassy building.

Violence between government forces and ethnic Albanian insurgents first erupted in February and has been centered around Tetovo, the country’s second-largest city in northwestern Macedonia. The city is predominantly ethnic Albanian.

The latest violence has raised fears that clashes could widen to engulf Macedonia’s other ethnically mixed areas.

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