EU Observers Killed in Macedonia as Talks Stall

July 7, 2008 - 7:09 PM

Sarajevo (CNSNews.com) - Two European Union observers in Macedonia and their ethnic Albanian translator have been killed after their vehicle apparently struck a land mine, an EU official in Brussels confirmed Friday.

The two observers, a Norwegian and a Slovakian, were on a routine reconnaissance mission in troubled northeastern Macedonia at the time of the incident.

The EU is ruling out intentional sabotage as cause of death unless its representatives at the scene are able to prove otherwise, the source said.

The accident occurred as talks aimed at ending the five-month-old conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and the government broke down over Macedonian objections to an EU and U.S.-backed plan that would make Albanian a semi-official language and grant more power to local governments.

Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubcho Georgievski accused the U.S. and Europe of interfering in his country's affairs and of trying to force the government to bow to rebel demands, which have brought Macedonia to the brink of civil war.

"If we accept this proposal, we will become the second-class citizens Albanians now claim to be," he said.

Albanian parties responded to the remarks by boycotting the talks on Thursday afternoon, although on Friday, U.S. envoy James Pardew and his EU counterpart Francois Leotard persuaded them to continue sending their representatives to the negotiations.

But Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski told the state news agency that Friday's talks would be only at the expert level, indicating that the political dialogue had indeed collapsed.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and EU Security Chief Javier Solana had been expected in Skopje Thursday to bring the politicians back together, but canceled the visit, calling Georgievski's statement "an undignified response" to international community attempts to end the conflict.

"It is also disappointing, given that the international facilitators are in Skopje at the invitation of the government, which has been informed of every move made," they said in a joint statement.

NATO has agreed to send in about 3,000 troops to disarm the rebels if Macedonia's political leaders can find a solution to permanently end the fighting.

But a two-week old NATO-brokered ceasefire is growing shakier with each day of stalled talks. Sporadic shooting has been reported around Tetovo and the northern town of Kumanovo all week.

At least one person was wounded in two explosions in Skopje Thursday morning thought to be caused by grenades.

Several hundred Macedonians marched in the capital to support their government's dismissal of the western-backed plan, some with posters reading, "Stop changes to our constitution."