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5 Officers Killed in Fight with Gunmen in Macedonia


People are evacuated from the scene of an altercation involving police and an armed group in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo, May 9, 2015.
People are evacuated from the scene of an altercation involving police and an armed group in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo, May 9, 2015.

Macedonian authorities said late Saturday that five police officers had been killed and more than 30 others had been wounded in a daylong battle with unidentified gunmen in an ethnic Albanian area near the borders of Kosovo and Serbia.

Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska said some of the gunmen outside the town of Kumanovo had been killed. She did not say how many were dead.

The Macedonian International News Agency said four "terrorists" had been killed and that another had committed suicide to avoid capture. Others were said to have surrendered to police. There was no immediate word on civilian casualties.

President Gjorge Ivanov cut short a visit to Moscow and reportedly was returning home to deal with the crisis.

Macedonia has been grappling with its deepest political crisis since its independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991. The government and the opposition have accused each other of planning to destabilize the country to take or preserve power, and some analysts fear leaders on both sides are ready to provoke ethnic clashes as leverage.

Kumanovo is 40 kilometers (24 miles) northeast of the capital, Skopje. Interior Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski said the gunmen outside Kumanovo had entered from a neighboring state to attack state institutions. He did not name the country of origin.

Both Albania and Kosovo — the latter country inhabited primarily by ethnic Albanians — issued statements expressing concern that called for calm and ethnic harmony in Macedonia.

The U.S. Embassy in Skopje issued a statement of regret and offered condolences to the families of the dead and wounded. It also urged Macedonian citizens “to remain calm and allow the facts to be established.”

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe similarly called for restraint on all sides.

Ethnic Albanians, who make up about 25 percent of Macedonia's 2 million people, took up arms in 2001. The conflict was resolved after six months with a Western-brokered peace deal that granted more rights to the ethnic Albanian minority.

Thousands of protesters clashed with riot police last week in Skopje, where political tensions have simmered since allegations of fraud in 2014 elections.

In a statement Saturday, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, who mediated an end to the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, called the violence in Kumanovo “worrying” and the situation Macedonia “tense.” He also called on the European Union to "intensify engagement" in Macedonia.

VOA’s Albanian service reporter in Skopje, Isak Ramadani, contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from AP.

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