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Macedonia Cease-Fire Raises Hopes for Peace Deal - 2001-08-12

Macedonia's President declared a unilateral halt to fighting with ethnic Albanian guerrillas late Sunday, after heavy battles in the north of the country. The move raises hope for a political deal to be signed Monday, intended to end six months of ethnic bloodletting.

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski has declared a truce with ethnic Albanian rebels to begin Sunday evening.

Ethnic Albanian guerrillas are expected to abide by the truce, following a series of meetings between leaders of the rebel National Liberation Army and senior NATO officials.

If the cease-fire holds, it should clear the way for Monday's signing of a package of political reforms aimed at meeting the rebels' demands for greater ethnic Albanian rights.

NATO Secretary General George Robertson and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will arrive in Skopje Monday for the signing ceremony with political leaders.

The call for a cease-fire follows a day of intense clashes in separate areas in the north of the country.

In the town of Radusha, the rebels scored major successes against government security forces Saturday. Despite long-range rocket attacks and bombing by government warplanes, Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski said Sunday that police were forced to withdraw from the town after the police station and an adjacent watchtower were set ablaze by the rebels.

State television reported heavy fighting and running street battles Sunday afternoon in the village of Ljuboten, three miles north of the capital, Skopje. The report said about 1,000 residents were forced to flee their homes.

The main highway linking Skopje with western Macedonia was cut off during the day, reportedly after the government sent in tanks near the village of Grupcin, where 10 government soldiers where killed Wednesday.