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Search Teams Recover Body of Macedonian President - 2004-02-27

Search teams have recovered the body of Macedonia's president and eight others killed in a plane crash in southern Bosnia-Herzegovina on Thursday.

The Macedonian government says a helicopter crew spotted the wreckage of the U.S.-built twin-engine aircraft, which crashed early Thursday, about 80 kilometers south of Sarajevo.

Recovery efforts are said to have been hampered by revelations that the area is scattered with landmines from the Bosnian conflict in the mid-1990s. Explosives experts were called in to help rescue workers reach the site.

The Bosnian Interior Ministry has suggested that bad weather played a role in the crash, and it has emerged that rain, heavy cloud cover and thick fog in the same area prompted Albania's prime minister, Fatos Nano, to cancel his own flight through the region.

But some Macedonian officials have also raised questions about the airworthiness of Boris Trajkovski's plane. A former foreign minister of the ex-Yugoslav republic, Slobodan Casule, was quoted as saying that the aircraft should have been grounded long ago, but was kept flying to save money.

As the investigation continues, mourners in Macedonia's capital, Skopje, lit candles in front of Mr. Trajkovski's office, where flags fly at half-staff.

The governments of Bosnia Herzegovina and Macedonia declared Friday a day of mourning for Mr. Trajkovski, and messages of condolence have poured in from leaders around the world. One of Mr. Trajkovski's last official acts was to sign the papers for his country's application to join the European Union.

The EU's Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, is visiting the Macedonian capital, Skopje. He urged Macedonians to "show courage, unity and maturity."

"I was with him at very difficult moments -- long days and long nights -- and I could always see his passion, his capacity to continue working, his tenacity. It's going to be very difficult for the people of Macedonia to fill that gap," he said.

Mr. Solana and other leaders have praised President Trajkovski as a tireless advocate of reconciliation between his country's ethnic-Albanian minority and other groups.

The former Methodist preacher presided over the 2001 NATO-brokered peace agreement that ended months of fighting between ethnic-Albanians and Macedonian security forces.

Macedonian journalist Saso Ordanovski says Mr. Trajkovski's legacy of tolerance will live on in the troubled country.

"His legacy, I think, has fertile ground, and I think that there is no question about the further developments of Macedonia in the direction of democracy and European integration," he said. "So, my impression is that, although this is very bad news, and it is very tragic news, politically, Macedonia will overcome this crisis in a couple of weeks."

Still, Macedonian authorities increased security around the country's borders after the crash.

Macedonian Parliament Speaker Ljubco Jordanovski was expected to serve as acting-president for a period of 40 days, until a successor for Mr. Trajkovski is selected.