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Macedonian police gunned down

Thousands of weapons were handed in after last year's Western-brokered deal
Thousands of weapons were handed in after last year's Western-brokered deal  

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Two Macedonian police officers have been killed in a drive-by shooting, just weeks before the first elections since last year's peace deal.

Daniel Jankovski and Aleksandra Nikolic were shot dead on Monday at a police checkpoint in Gostivar, an ethnic Albanian-dominated area 60 kilometres (40 miles) outside Skopje, in the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia.

Local police, who said they suspected the attack was ethnically motivated, detained 10 people, Reuters reported.

The incident has raised fears of increasing violence before the first elections on September 15. The country has enjoyed relative peace since a Western-brokered peace deal ended six months of conflict that left it on the edge of civil war.

Some ethnic Albanians, who make up a third of the country's two million people, are reported to recently have joined rebel groups, The Associated Press said.

The Interior Ministry said it believed the Army of the Republic of Ilirida (ARI) was responsible for Monday's attack, but ethnic Albanian leaders said they did not recognise the group.

In-depth: Macedonia - hurdles to peace 

Some diplomats fear the recent shootings could cause a Macedonian nationalist backlash.

One unnamed Western diplomat told Reuters: "It's still unclear whether this is just a criminal act or has an ethnic background and deeper political implications, in which it can seriously damage the peace process."

Former ethnic Albanian guerilla leaders are said to have scheduled a rally in Skopje to promote their newly formed political party later on Monday.

Leaders of of the former liberation army of ethnic Albanians, now disbanded, are due to participate in the general elections, which could be a key step in cementing relations between Macedonia and ethnic Albanians, according to Reuters.

Seven hundred NATO peace keepers have remained in the country since Parliament granted ethnic Albanians greater influence last August.

If Albanian rebels admit to Monday's killings it will bring the recent death toll of police officers killed by guerilla soldiers to five.

Reuters reports that police investigators have secured the scene of the attack and a NATO liaison team has been sent to Gostivar to evaluate the situation.




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