Nato troops shot at in Macedonia as ceasefire falters

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The Independent Online

The truce between Macedonian Slavs and Albanian rebels got off to a shaky start yesterday, with Nato reporting that some of its German troops had come under fire from unknown assailants hours before the ceasefire took effect.

The alliance was careful to state the attack happened before the truce came into force. Nevertheless, the attack on Nato troops will not reassure officials who fear Nato's planned deployment in the strife-torn republic may be premature.

A spokesman for the Nato peace-keeping force in neighbouring Kosovo, which has a logistical force based in Macedonia, said: "We're very concerned. We're not really sure why it happened or who was behind it." The German soldiers were part of Nato's K-For mission in Kosovo.

The NLA denied its fighters were to blame. "We didn't attack them," an NLA commander said. "We respect the ceasefire and will act only in self-defence."

Up to 3,000 Nato troops are ready to move in to supervise the demilitarisation of ethnic Albanian rebels from the National Liberation Army, on condition that the truce proves durable and a political peace deal is on the table to resolve Albanian grievances. The German Foreign Minister, Joshka Fischer, said yesterday that Germany is readying about 300 troops. "In Macedonia, we have a great chance this time to prevent a civil war," Mr Fischer said. "Germany must not stand on the sidelines. That is our responsibility to Europe." A commitment from the rebels to disarm and progress in talks to resolve political differences dividing the Slav majority and Albanian minority have been set as conditions for a Nato presence. "When those conditions are met, Germany can and will not shirk its foreign policy responsibility," Mr Fischer said.

The Nato secretary-general, George Robertson, said the ceasefire appeared to be holding. "There is more light at the end of the tunnel than there has been for some time," he said in Brussels. "It's a major gain for the people of Macedonia and the wider region."

* A Yugoslav court yesterday sentenced Rade Markovic, the feared Serbian secret police chief under former president Slobodan Milosevic, to a year in jail for revealing state secrets.