Macedonian police found large store of weapons and ammunition

Macedonian police seized a large cache of weapons and ammunition, including a light artillery piece, in two weekend raids in the north of the country, authorities said Monday.

"We believe the weapons belong to a gang of ethnic Albanian former rebels led by Agim Krasniqi," Interior Ministry spokesman Goran Pavlovski told The Associated Press.

Police found a 75 mm mortar shell, one rocket launcher, three mortar launchers, three heavy machine-guns, seven automatic guns and eight grenade-launchers in a cache near the northern Macedonian village of Kondovo, just outside the capital Skopje.

Police said they also seized two grenades, six mortar rounds and nine bombs, as well as unspecified quantities of land mines, explosives and ammunition.

Ethnic Albanian rebel commander Agim Krasniqi led a 50-strong armed group into Kondovo in November 2004, claiming the government and ethnic Albanian leaders had broken promises to provide former rebels with an amnesty and jobs.

A court in Skopje two weeks ago dropped criminal charges, including illegal possession of arms against Krasniqi, 30, and withdrew an arrest warrant issued for him.

This angered Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski, who called for a full investigation.

Crvenkovski had demanded Krasniqi's arrest during a meeting of the National Security Council in July. But the government has hesitated to take action, fearing it could trigger a larger armed conflict in the ethnically divided country.

Ethnic Albanians make up about a quarter of Macedonia's population of 2.1 million.

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