Macedonians arrest eight over killing of British soldier

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The Independent Online

Eight people have been arrested in Macedonia in connection with the killing of a British soldier, Ian Collins, last month. Sapper Collins, from Kiveton, near Sheffield, died of severe head injuries after a concrete block was thrown through the windscreen of his vehicle as he drove through an otherwise peaceful area on 27 August.

The 22-year-old sapper, of the 9th Parachute Squadron of the Royal Engineers, was in Macedonia with the Nato task force, which is collecting arms from Albanian rebels as part of a Western attempt to prevent full-scale civil war.

It is believed Sapper Collins may have been targeted because he was serving with Nato. Many of the ethnic Macedonian majority resent the presence of Nato troops, who they regard as biased in favour of the Albanian rebels.

Nato sources said a surviving passenger in the vehicle had seen the concrete block being thrown by "youths", who then surrounded the vehicle. Television reports said the block was thrown by ethnic Macedonians.

Local police refused to disclose the identities of those under arrest, but said four of them were under the age of 18. They have been arrested on suspicion of endangering public safety and criminal negligence, and could be charged with manslaughter, police said.

After thethe attack, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, telephoned the Macedonian President, Boris Trajkovski, to demand a full investigation.

Up to 1,900 British soldiers are still in Macedonia collecting rebel arms. They are supposed to leave once that task is finished next week, to make way for peace monitors and a much smaller Nato force.

But the peace process could still run aground in the Macedonian parliament, where attempts to give greater rights to the Albanian minority – the rebels' price for disarmament – are under threat. Many MPs are bitterly opposed to rewriting the constitution, which defines the country as the nation state of ethnic Macedonians, and one party wants to put the peace deal to a referendum, which would delay the entire process by month. The rebels have threatened to remobilise if the government does not keep its side of the deal.