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Ethnically-Mixed Police Units Begin Macedonia Patrols

Ethnically mixed police units have begun operation in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

Against all the odds, ethnically mixed police units of Macedonian and ethnic-Albanian officers took over an area that until recently was controlled by Albanian fighters.

In the past, unarmed civilians blocked the major roads around Macedonia's second town of Tetovo to keep out the new ethnically diverse police forces.

But the adoption of a law on local governments last week, giving the ethnic Albanians a degree of autonomy, apparently eased tensions.

The first officers of the carefully selected and trained mixed police force entered the village of Matejce, about 16 kilometres north of Macedonia's capital, Skopje.

Matejce was one of dozens of villages that were badly damaged by months of fighting last year between ethnic Albanian gunmen and Macedonian security forces.

Albanian militants launched their insurgency in an effort to win broader rights for the estimated 600,000 ethnic Albanians, nearly one-third of Macedonia's total population.

The use of ethnically mixed police units in the region is seen as a major political triumph for Javier Solana. The EU foreign policy chief says he has also managed to ease tensions between Serbia and Montenegro.

After talks in Belgrade, he said the two republics - which together form the Yugoslav federation - had agreed to hold another meeting in Brussels next month to discuss economic cooperation.

But not all politicians are sure that new tensions can be avoided in the troubled region. Saturday Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac described the EU proposal to keep his tiny republic of 650,000 people within the Yugoslav federation as "inappropriate." The European Union has been anxious to keep the two sides talking, hoping they will agree to a reformed federation and avoid another dangerous border change in the Balkans, following a decade of civil conflicts.