‘No evidence of ethnic motive to killings’

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There is no evidence to back speculation that the shootings of five people in Macedonia were ethnic killings, authorities insisted yesterday.

There have been tensions in the country since the end of an armed rebellion in 2001, when ethnic Albanian rebels fought Macedonian government forces for about eight months. The conflict left 80 people dead, and ended with the intervention of Nato troops.

The five victims found earlier this week were all ethnic Macedonians. After the shootings, riot police were deployed to the main road leading to their village as angry youths blocked the road, smashing windows and throwing stones at buses.

Police spokesman Ivo Kotevski said: “I ask the media not to make any speculation that [the crime] is connected with inter-ethnic issues … There is no evidence of that.”

President Gjorge Ivanov urged “restraint by all” and called for a quick investigation, a sentiment echoed by a local official.

Petar Latinovski, the mayor of the area, said: “I appeal to authorities to … find the culprits of this horrible murder in order for all speculation to be avoided.”

The victims were found by a local fisherman late on Thursday near an artificial lake just north of the capital, Skopje, Kotevski said. Four of the victims were in their 20s, the fifth was in his 40s. Police sealed off the area and the bodies were being examined by forensic experts. Authorities have not disclosed any information about suspects or motives.

There were two flare-ups of violence this year, the last one in March, with clashes between gangs of Albanian and ethnic Macedonian youths resulting in dozens of injuries. During several days of rioting, youths attacked buses and used iron bars, knives and baseball bats in street fights.