As full-scale war threatens to erupt in the Balkan region — the gateway to the heart of Europe from the Near East — a previously unknown paramilitary group has emerged and is threatening another round of ethnic cleansing, according to official Balkan sources.

The emergence of the latest paramilitary group to operate in the Balkan region comes at a time when NATO is preparing to send troops into Macedonia to assist the Macedonian government at the request of the president of Macedonia, Boris Trajkovsky.

“Macedonia paramilitary 2000” issued a warning that it would begin “cleansing villages” in Macedonia and that “only those who distance themselves from the terrorists will be spared.”

The report was carried by Radio Yugoslavia, the official broadcasting service of the Yugoslav government. Radio Yugoslavia cited the group’s announcement in the Macedonian newspaper Vest, which is published in the Macedonian capital of Skopje.

The group also demanded that “all Albanians” who have obtained Macedonian citizenship in recent years “leave the country by June 25.”

“Macedonian paramilitary 2000” was founded 10 years ago, but operated underground until the public announcement of its existence, said the official broadcast. The group counts among its membership “many people” previously connected with the Macedonian government and “large numbers of elite units of the army and police,” Radio Yugoslavia stated, citing the Vest report.

According to an official NATO statement, referencing an earlier press release, the alliance will intervene only if “the political dialogue between the different parties has a ‘successful outcome,’ and a cease-fire is implemented.”

A BBC report states that the U.S. will provide “logistical support,” while Britain, France, Spain, Greece and the Czech Republic will supply ground troops.

The political situation in Macedonia, however, continues to deteriorate. The Macedonian Information Agency states that talks between Macedonian and ethnic Albanian politicians have come to a standstill. Trajkovsky puts the blame for the impasse on the ethnic Albanians who “dramatically changed their position” as to the constitution of the Macedonian state.

According to Trajkovski, the ethnic Albanians are seeking to divide the country along ethnic lines, instead of the present system based around a central government consisting of various ethnic groups.

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson has warned of a civil war if the various parties in the Macedonian crisis do not come to an agreement.

Some observers fear that an ethnically controlled section of Macedonia could eventually secede and link up with an increasingly independent Kosovo, forming a new Albanian state in the Balkans. A change in the borders in the volatile region could easily engender new – and possibly larger – conflicts.

Ethnic Albanian sources deny any geopolitical ambitions, but assert they are merely seeking greater political freedom within the Macedonian state.

Kosovo, a nominally Yugoslav province, has been under the control of NATO since the end of NATO’s 78-day war against Yugoslavia in 1999. NATO has come under criticism for allowing Kosovo, dominated by ethnic Albanians, to establish itself as an independent entity apart from Yugoslavia.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, with support from Russian President
Vladimir Putin, is demanding that NATO recognize Yugoslav authority over Kosovo, citing U.N. Resolution 1244, which states that Kosovo is to remain under Belgrade’s jurisdiction.

Putin met with Kostunica shortly after his recent summit meeting with U.S. President George Bush in the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia. Russia has consistently backed Belgrade’s claim to Kosovo.

Should Kosovo declare its independence as an ethnic Albanian state, some observers fear that the way will be open to the formation of a “Greater Albania,” eventually comprising parts of Macedonia and Montenegro, Kosovo and the exiting nation of Albania.

While some ethnic Albanians deny any hope for a “Greater Albania,” others claim that the present borders in the Balkans discriminate against ethnic Albanians living in the region.

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