Macedonian police kill four militants in mountain operation

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

At least four members of an armed criminal group have been killed and six arrested in a police action dubbed "Mountain Storm," Macedonian Interior Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski told the MIA state news agency. He said no police officers were injured and confirmed special forces were still in the area.

Locals from the village of Brodec, a Šar Mountain village north of Tetovo, have confirmed a shootout between police and armed groups in the village.

The Šar mountain

A spokesman for NATO peacekeepers in neighbouring Kosovo told a news conference a helicopter had crashed but there was no information on casualties. Macedonian police denied that report. "There is no helicopter down on the Macedonian side," spokesman Ivo Kotevski told Reuters.

Local media reported that police are searching for Lirim Jakupi (also known as "Nazi"), a convicted criminal who escaped with seven other men in a violent break-out from Kosovo`s Dubrava Prison in August and is believed to be hiding in the area. Last week Xhavid Morina, another escaped convict from Dubrava Prison, was found dead near Odri, a village close to Tetovo. Also, in October, a Macedonian policeman was killed in an ambush near the border with Kosovo and Croatian TV aired a video showing Albanian militants threatening actions in Kosovo.

Several media reported that KFOR has closed the border towards Macedonia, in the part of Kosovo, due to the police operation at Šar Mountain. KFOR troops are heavily armed and ready to shoot in case of "conflict spillover at Kosovo territory," media report.

The operation was announced over at 14:00 local time.

The clashes took place in the part of Macedonia which saw bitter ethnic clashes in 2001.