West starts to evacuate diplomats as Macedonia defies calls for restraint

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The Independent Online

Britain warned its citizens against travelling to Macedonia, and the United States began evacuating diplomats as government forces launched fresh attacks on Albanian rebels yesterday in defiance of Western calls for restraint.

Britain warned its citizens against travelling to Macedonia, and the United States began evacuating diplomats as government forces launched fresh attacks on Albanian rebels yesterday in defiance of Western calls for restraint.

Despite the deepening threat of civil war, Nato insisted it has no plans to intervene unless the Macedonian government and the Albanian minority reach a political agreement.

Nato officials believe that, in the event of intervention, troops might have to be drawn from a "coalition of the willing", effectively delaying any deployment. It said it was pressing ahead with plans for the deployment of 3,000 soldiers to help disarm rebels if a peace deal can be clinched. But diplomats conceded that this prospect remains distant, although last night the US President, George Bush, did not rule out sending US troops to Macedonia.

Although the capital, Skopje, was calm yesterday, Macedonian forces shelled positions held by ethnic Albanian rebels, throwing efforts to salvage a peace deal into further disarray.

The US prepared for the worst, authorising the evacuation of non-emergency personnel from its Skopje embassy, and Washington and London advised people not to travel to Macedonia because of growing anti-Western sentiment. The Foreign Office also urged Britons in the country to leave.

The West insists that the conflict cannot be solved militarily and the European Union's new envoy to the region, the former French defence minister Francois Leotard, will arrive in Macedonia to try to revive the political dialogue.

But his appointment had an unhappy start when Mr Leotard told French radio that the "Macedonian government must talk with the leaders of the guerrillas" – something the Slav politicians have vowed not to do. Officials insisted that this was a slip of the tongue and the policy was for negotiations with the democratically elected Albanian parties.

President Bush issued an executive order last night barring US citizens from funding the Albanian rebels, in a move aimed at shoring up the government in Skopje. Riots by Macedonian nationalists in Skopje on Monday night were sparked by the evacuation of about 250 Albanian rebels from the town of Aracinovo in buses belonging to American K-For troops. Nato and the US insisted that the move came in response to a request from the Macedonian government.

The EU is increasingly alarmed at the split in the Macedonian government. Europe's foreign policy supremo, Javier Solana, referred for the first time to "radicals on both sides".

* The United States said pledges for aid toYugoslavia will depend on co-operation with the international war crimes tribunal. The Yugoslav Constitutional Court is due to rule today on the extradition Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague.

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