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“There is now a risk that neighbor will start attacking neighbor” in the small but strategically located Balkan nation of Macedonia, a top European Union official has warned, according to Deutsche Welle, the official broadcasting service of Germany.

The EU coordinator for the Balkan Security Pact, Bodo Hombach, issued his statement at the same time the Macedonian President Boris Trajkovsky openly expressed his fear of an imminent civil war in his nation and pleaded for calm. Trajkovsky’s plea followed an attack by some 5,000 ethnic Macedonian Slavs on the parliament building late Monday and early Tuesday.

The protesters denounced the Macedonian government’s cooperation with a NATO-sponsored peace agreement and demanded stronger action against ethnic Albanian rebels.

Radio Yugoslavia – the official broadcasting service of the Yugoslav government – reported that regular and reserve Macedonian police personnel were present in the crowd, some shooting into the air.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that 15,000 additional protesters were in nearby side streets chanting anti-government and anti-Western slogans.

Shortly after the assault on the parliament building, ethnic Albanian rebels threatened to attack the Macedonian capital of Skopje and other cities in the nation if the Macedonian government did not restart negotiations, which had become deadlocked.

Macedonian forces launched attacks against the ethnic Albanians when negotiations became stalled.

Reports indicate that ethnic Albanians – who make up roughly 30 percent of the Macedonian population – demanded the right to veto any legislation passed in parliament by the representatives of the other 70 percent of the Macedonian population. The ethnic Albanians have “flatly refused to settle for anything less,” according to Deutsche Welle.

Although Macedonian Slavs make up the majority of non-Albanians in Macedonia, there exist several other ethnic groups making up notable portions of the nation.

The EU has placed great financial pressure on the Macedonian government, threatening to withhold vital aid to the financially strapped nation until Skopje comes to terms with the ethnic Albanians and ends the hostility that threatens to erupt into open warfare close to the heart of Europe.

EU Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten informed the Macedonian government that there is “little we can do … until there is a political settlement,” Deutsche Welle reported.

The international community is anxious to get the United States more involved in the region to support faltering EU efforts.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group, which receives considerable support from the EU and individual European nations, is calling upon the U.S. to take a greater role in the Macedonian crisis.

Mark Thompson, Balkans director of the ICG, stated that his organization wants the U.S. to send a special representative “to stand shoulder to shoulder” with the EU’s special envoy, already present in Macedonia.

Thompson referred to the “ethnic Macedonian government” as not wanting “to make the reforms … required if there is to be a political settlement,” according to a BBC report.

Although the EU “has made great strides” in developing credibility to solve international problems, Thompson stated, the EU is still unable to “really persuade sides which are deeply in conflict that they must reach a deal,” resulting in the need for greater U.S. intervention in the Macedonian crisis.

The ICG report, “Macedonia: The Last Chance for Peace,” emphasizes joint EU/U.S. cooperation in resolving the deep ethnic divisions in Macedonia.

The acknowledgment of the need for U.S. assistance in a European political matter comes shortly after the EU had explored options for an all-European force independent of the U.S.

Observers note that ethnic Albanians are in favor of international intervention in Macedonia, and point to Kosovo as a reason for ethnic Albanian support for outside intervention.

Following the 78-day NATO air war against Yugoslavia, NATO occupied the nominally Yugoslav province of Kosovo. The U.N. commission that runs the daily affairs of Kosovo recently adopted a constitution for the province, which gives Kosovo the structures needed to become an independent state – which presumably would be dominated by ethnic Albanians.

Ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, however, state that they only seek equality within the Macedonian state, while in Kosovo the political representatives of the ethnic Albanian majority refer to past Serb crimes against them, and declare that they only seek freedom from Serb persecution.

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