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Macedonia clashes with insurgents

DEBELDE, Yugoslavia — Macedonian troops clashed Monday with ethnic Albanian rebels for a second day near a mountainous border area, attacks that threatened to draw the region into war. U.S. peacekeepers poured into the area.

Sunday's firefights killed three soldiers, but there were no reports of any dead Monday, Macedonia's Defense Ministry said, in the fighting at the border area between Yugoslavia's southern province of Kosovo and the Macedonian village of Tanusevci.

The rebels attacked government positions with mortars in the hills near Tanusevci, a stronghold of the rebels 20 miles north of Macedonia's capital, Skopje, the ministry said.

Macedonia insists it has contained the fighting to a handful of villages surrounding Tanusevci, but fears remain that it could spread and engulf much of the country.

Such a conflict is potentially explosive because Macedonia has a restive ethnic Albanian community making up about a quarter of its 2 million people.

Rising tensions in Tanusevci and a strip around Kosovo in southern Yugoslavia have raised the prospects of another major crisis around Kosovo less than two years after the end of warfare there.

A day after partial mobilization of army reservists, authorities in Skopje announced the full call-up of police reservists.

Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim, meanwhile, urged Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders to meet him for talks on how to overcome the crisis "in a way acceptable to all."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher condemned actions "by extremists who are seeking to undermine the stability in Macedonia, Kosovo and the region."

Two people were arrested Sunday evening trying to cross into Kosovo, said U.S. Maj. James Marshall, a spokesman for the peacekeepers. In Skopje, government officials said that NATO envoy Daniel Speckhard had offered assurances that NATO had started looking for arms caches in the Debelde area of Yugoslavia. The United Nations has been administering Kosovo with the help of NATO peacekeepers since 1999.

U.S. peacekeepers in neighboring Kosovo sent armored vehicles and two dozen humvees to Debelde on Monday, patrolling and observing all movements on the other side of the line in Macedonia. Two American Apache helicopters and a spy plane swooped overhead during the three-hour firefight.

"We have indications that there are armed groups that have entered Kosovo and are using some of the villages around here to get out of their uniforms, leave their weapons behind and infiltrate the civilian population," Marshall said. "We are taking steps right now to prevent that from happening."

About 150 U.S. soldiers fanned out in the tiny village of Debelde, clogging the streets with a half dozen armored vehicles and about 20 humvees.

Staff Sgt. Mario Barber, 25, of Trenton, N.C., set up a mortar position near the graveyard of this modest village.

"There were reports of people with black uniforms walking around with weapons on the other side, and we are here to observe," Barber said.