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Bulgaria offers troops to Macedonia

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Bulgaria has offered to send troops to aid Macedonia as fighting continues along the tense border with Kosovo.

Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov extended the offer during a telephone conversation with President Boris Trajkovski, president of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Three Macedonian soldiers were killed in the border region on Sunday -- which has seen an upsurge in guerrilla activity blamed on ethnic Albanians.

Stoyanov said he would raise the issue of using Bulgarian armed forces to secure stability in the region in parliament if requested by Macedonia or international organisations.

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Journalist James Pettifer: Mediation missions are being planned

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A Macedonian interior ministry spokesman said the country had closed the border to tighten security.

Defence Ministry spokesman Georgi Trendavilov added: "We have taken all precautionary measures and the state authorities have already adopted directions for additional measures and we expect that those measures will be taken overnight."

The Reuters news agency reported renewed heavy firing between Macedonian security and ethnic Albanian guerrillas occupying a village just inside Macedonia.

Journalist James Pettifer -- the author of several books on the Balkans -- said that roads to the border had been blocked creating potential supply problems for Kosovo.

He said that much of KFOR's supplies into Kosovo, from building materials to food, go through Macedonia.

Fighting between ethnic Albanian militants and Macedonian forces has raised concerns that the republic could be the battleground for the next round of Balkan bloodshed.

Ethnic Albanians, most of whom are Muslim, represent just over one-fifth of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's population of two million, making them by far the country's largest ethnic minority.

Macedonian Slavs, largely of Eastern Orthodox faith, account for two-thirds of the country's citizens. Other ethnic groups -- including Turks, Gypsies and Serbs -- collectively account for about 10 percent of the population.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORY:
Macedonia: A Balkan time bomb?
March 1, 2001

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