State Department Issues Macedonia Warning

As social and political unrest continues in Macedonia, the U.S. State Department is urging Americans to stay out of the country — and authorized the departure of all non-emergency embassy personnel.

"The situation in Macedonia is unsettled and potentially dangerous as a result of armed clashes between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian radicals," the advisory reads, noting that anti-Western sentiment has been particularly strong.

U.S. Forces Under Fire in New Violence

On Monday, fresh violence broke out in the wake of a White House-approved mission that saw U.S. forces come under fire when they helped evacuate hundreds of ethnic Albanians from a besieged village.

The American personnel, 81 well-armed combat troops of the 101st Airborne Division and 20 contractors, on Monday transported some 100 rebels and about 250 other civilians — men, women and children — out of Aracinovo and to a village 11 miles away under a plan to end clashes in the village.

The ethnic Albanians were escorted in a convoy of 15 buses, three trucks, three ambulances and 16 Humvees for security, officials said. The U.S. troops, part of a contingent located in the nearby capital of Skopje, were shot at during the operation, but did not shoot back. There were no reports of U.S. casualties.

Officials said the evacuation was quickly, but heavily planned. More troops were on standby, as were helicpters ready to conduct an evacuation of the forces.

But all did not go exactly according to plan. At one point, the U.S. forces were in visual sight of Macedonian government combat vehicles, though an agreement had required Macedonian forces pull back out of sight, so the convoy would not be in the vehicle's gunsights, NATO sources say. The U.S. troops asked the Macedonians to pull back, and they did.

At another point point, the convoy was held up at a Macedonian government checkpoint, allowing a large armed crowd to quickly gather around the troops, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed. "The U.S. commander on scene made the call and, rather than try to continue through the checkpoint and continue the process, I'm gonna turn around and seek another way and defuse the situation," said Rear Adm. Craig R. Quigley.

Quigley said the evacuation had the support of the Macedonian government. He also noted there are elements within Macedonian society that clearly opposed it.

Following the operation, anti-ethnic Albanian rioting broke out in Skopje. The protesters demanded harsher government action against ethnic Albanians.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson praised the evacuation, calling it "a major step forward in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia peace process."

NATO and European Union envoys had earlier brokered a deal allowing the ethnic Albanians to pull out of Aracinovo and return to guerrilla-held territory. The deal, which came just days after government forces began an offensive on the violence-torn, strategically important area, was designed to revive peace talks.

Violence Persists

However, violence continued Tuesday in a number of areas.

There were reports of intense fighting near the northwest town of Tetovo, as rebels attacked police positions on the outskirts of the city and government forces returned fire. A policeman was killed and four others were wounded, a U.S. official confirmed.

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