Macedonia says rebels killed reporter Lawton

April 2001

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Macedonia has laid the blame for the shelling of a village just inside Kosovo last week that killed two civilians, including a journalist, on rebel forces.

Officially denying any involvement, Macedonia's army said an internal investigation showed its artillery gunners were out of range of the village.

It said its forces had been given no orders to fire into Kosovo and were co-ordinating with NATO-led peacekeepers operating in the area at the time.

Tuesday's statement called the shelling a "vicious setup" -- by ethnic Albanian rebels, the statement inferred -- to make it appear that Macedonian troops were responsible.

A commission of military experts concluded that although a Macedonian artillery unit had shelled a target nearby on the morning of the attack, the village of Krivenik, 1,200 yards inside Kosovo, lay outside its artillery range.

The Macedonian gunners had a maximum range of 4,000 yards, and the village was 5,400 yards away, the army statement said.

It said no order was given to fire into Kosovo territory.

Among those killed in last Thursday's shelling of Krivenik was Associated Press Television News Producer Kerem Lawton, a 30-year-old British national.

Lawton was in the area to cover the deployment of peacekeepers who have been working to keep rebels from slipping across the border into Macedonia. Twenty other people wounded.

NATO is conducting its own investigation of the incident and has yet to reveal its conclusions.

Following the shelling, a Macedonian military spokesman had sought to cast blame on ethnic Albanian rebels, suggesting that insurgents disguised as Macedonian troops were to blame for the shelling.

The report repeated that suggestion.

"According to the commission's expertise, it is obvious that (the shelling) was a matter of a vicious setup, which is shown through the presence of 30 people in the location between the (Kosovo-Macedonian) border and the village, Krivenik, dressed as Macedonian army members," it said.

Meanwhile, Macedonia's main Albanian opposition party said Tuesday representatives of rebel fighters should be included in talks on easing inter-ethnic tension.

Such a proposal is anathema to the country's majority Slavs, and to the West, which has backed the Skopje government's stand that there should be no talks with "terrorists."

NATO's secretary-general, Lord Robertson, has urged all parties to move ahead with talks.

"Extremism is in retreat, but the job has to be finished," he told reporters in Skopje on Tuesday night.

"Military success must be followed with political dialogue with all the parties in order to prove that democracy works and can produce results."

Robertson said NATO moves in Kosovo to prevent rebels moving arms and men to the battlefronts had helped Macedonia's military success. The key now was to make political progress, he said.

The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Alexander Vershbow, praised Macedonia's commitment to democracy and its handling of the six-week-old rebellion by ethnic Albanians.

"The acute security crisis has passed -- thankfully with very low casualties, especially among civilians," he said.

"The anguished families of those who were killed, however, are the most powerful reminders of his vital it is that we work together to prevent this from happening again."