EU monitors die in Macedonia as peace hopes fade


SKOPJE, Reuters

A three-man European Union team was found dead in Macedonia on Friday after their vehicle was blown into a ravine by a mine while monitoring a fragile cease-fire in the divided former Yugoslav republic.

The Norwegian and Slovakian monitors and their translator, from Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian minority, disappeared on Thursday in hills near Tetovo, a flashpoint town in five months of fighting between government forces and Albanian guerrillas.

Their deaths are the first among a growing number of international officials in Macedonia hoping to secure peace.

In the capital Skopje, 50 km (30 miles) away, Western envoys struggled to salvage a political deal to end the rebellion that has dragged the tiny Balkan state towards civil war.

Prospects for peace have worsened since the Macedonian government condemned the latest Western proposals as tantamount to dividing the country at the behest of separatist rebels.

Macedonian leaders want to return to earlier versions of the peace plan and accused Albanian parties of blocking progress by failing to show up for talks on Thursday.

Gloomy diplomats worry nationalist Macedonian rhetoric could block compromise on a package of reforms granting Albanians more civil rights in the hope of avoiding major bloodshed.

“I hope the Macedonians don’t try to shred the process apart, but I don’t know what their ultimate goal is. I hope it is to get a political deal,” one Western diplomat said.

“But there are some irrational people involved here and that’s very dangerous.”