Police: Rebels Try to Open Second Front near Albanian Border
Guerrillas from Albania are recruiting ethnic Albanians in western Macedonia to open up a second front following the retreat of the rebels from the north, officials said.
Police sources told AFP that a "large group of armed and uniformed" people near the western Macedonian town of Debar, three miles (five kilometres) from the Albanian border, on Monday.
Ljuben Boskovski, a minister of state at the interior ministry, visited Debar on Tuesday and later told state television that the guerrillas had been making "contacts for organising and acting in the Debar area".
Ethnic Albanian rebels had been agitating for greater rights for Macedonia's Albanian minority in recent weeks but the government in Skopje, which calls the fighters terrorists and accuses them of criminal activity, says it has crushed their rebellion.
The reports increased fears that the guerrillas are planning a counter-offensive after the Macedonian army drove them out of a string of villages they had captured near the Kosovo border.
The guerrillas were wearing the emblem of the National Liberation Army (NLA), a rebel group that for the past month has clashed with security forces, police said.
They remained on Macedonian territory for several hours before leaving, the sources said.
Previous NLA actions have been confined to the hilly area of northern Macedonia bordering the UN-run province of Kosovo, from where the rebels are thought to receive men, weapons and support.
But a government offensive last week, combined with intensified attempts by Kosovo's NATO-led peacekeepers to stop fighters crossing the frontier, appears to have put the NLA on the back foot.
Official Macedonian sources told AFP that the rebels could now be planning a second offensive from Albania itself and that training camps used in Albania by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which fought Yugoslav forces in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999, had been reopened -- SKOPJE
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