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Fighting resumes in Macedonia

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Macedonia's army has resumed its offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels, as the country's main political parties struggle to forge a unity government.

The Macedonian military ordered people near Vakcince to evacuate Wednesday morning in preparation for a fresh strike, after earlier pounding the town with rockets and heavy artillery.

"The operation will continue until the terrorists are finally eliminated," Colonel Blagoje Markovski told the Associated Press news agency.

The action comes as the political parties consider their response to a proposed "grand coalition" drafted following hours of crisis talks on Tuesday.


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An agreement had been reached between the main ruling and opposition parties, but the main ethnic Albanian opposition grouping, the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP), later said it needed more time to consider the unity plan.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana had backed the plan for a coalition, but PDP parliamentary group head Naser Ziberi said after the talks in Tetovo: "We have not taken a decision yet.

"The priority for us is how to stop the war."

Macedonian officials have repeatedly said they will not negotiate with the rebels.

Political leaders are taking the details of the agreement back to their delegations and their decisions could come as early as Wednesday.

The PDP wants a ceasefire before finalising any deal.

One rebel commander, Commander Sokoli, told Kosovalive news agency in Kosovo, that "any government formed without the participation of the NLA (National Liberation Army) will only let more blood get spilled."

The coalition announcement came as Macedonian tanks, helicopters and long-range artillery fired on ethnic Albanian rebels on Tuesday.

The village of Vakcince was bombarded, sending clouds of smoke into the air, and Slupcane, another suspected rebel stronghold, was shelled, Reuters news agency said.

Army spokesman Blagoja Markovski said the rebels, whose numbers he estimated in the "hundreds" in Vakcince, fired back.

Nearly 7,000 ethnic Albanians have gone to neighbouring Kosovo to escape the fighting, the UNHCR refugee agency said. In March, 10,000 fled to seek shelter.

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