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Heavy fighting greets envoy to Macedonia

Pardew warns against further use of violence

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SKOPJE, Macedonia — Heavy shelling in western Macedonia shattered a weekend lull on Sunday just hours after Washington special envoy James Pardew arrived to bolster efforts to end a 4-month-old ethnic Albanian guerrilla revolt.

The sound of artillery and machine gun fire pierced the night around the mainly Albanian town of Tetovo, and witnesses said helicopter gunships attacked an area northwest of the capital Skopje on Sunday evening.

Pardew warned on his arrival against any further use of violence and urged the politicians in Macedonia's inter-ethnic government to take responsibility for resolving the conflict before the former Yugoslav republic slides into civil war.

"It is important to recognize that finding a solution here is really the responsibility of the leaders of Macedonia and so we look to them to take that responsibility," Pardew said.

Western governments have criticized both the Albanian rebels for using violence to highlight the plight of their ethnic brethren in the country and the Macedonian government's heavy-handed response.

"There are some who believe the use of force is appropriate in this circumstance, but that's not true. Those who favor the use of force are undermining the peace process," Pardew told reporters before heading for his first meetings.

Within hours of his arrival, two Mi-24 helicopter gunships flew toward the village of Radusa on Macedonia's western border with Kosovo. Ten loud explosions echoed from the area before the helicopters returned, flying over Skopje.

The village, occupied by ethnic Albanian guerrillas, has been a flashpoint for about two weeks in the conflict between the rebels and the Macedonian army.

Eyewitnesses in Tetovo, near mountains where fighting broke out in March, said they heard artillery and automatic gunfire around the hillside villages of Gajre and Sipkovica to the west of the mainly Albanian town.

The army also fired at the hills from some of its positions in the town, where tensions are running high.

Macedonians in Tetovo said a Macedonian civilian had been killed by rebels in the village of Brezno above the town on Sunday. If confirmed, it would only be the second civilian death of the conflict. An ethnic Albanian man was shot dead in March.

Pardew said he would work closely with European Union peace envoy Francois Leotard. Both were appointed in a growing international effort to resolve the conflict before it spreads.

Talks between Macedonian and ethnic Albanian politicians have stalled over disagreements on how to improve the rights of the one-third Albanian minority. One of the latest rounds was disrupted on Monday when armed police reservists stormed into parliament during a nationalist riot. The participants escaped through a back door.

The Albanians are demanding a more formalised international participation, but the Macedonian side has so far resisted, fearing it will play into their opponents' hands.

NATO has given final approval to a plan to send up to 3,000 peacekeeping troops to Macedonia to collect and destroy the weapons of ethnic Albanian rebels but insists they would only deploy after a lasting truce and political agreement is reached.

Some 100,000 mostly ethnic Albanian villagers have been displaced since the conflict erupted and some of those who have stayed have found themselves trapped without food, water and medical supplies. Over 70,000 have gone to live with Albanian families in neighbouring Kosovo.