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Bulgaria grants military aid to Macedonia

By
VLAD LYUBOMIROV

SOFIA, Bulgaria, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Bulgaria's defense minister said Tuesday that his country would extend new military aid to neighboring Macedonia, including light arms, munitions, technical support and officer training.

Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov made his comments after meeting with his Macedonian counterpart, Vlado Popovski, who is on a two-day visit to Bulgaria.

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Svinarov specified that Bulgaria would not be providing any more tanks and other heavy armaments to Macedonia, in accordance with obligations it has undertaken toward NATO and the European Union, which both countries aspire to join.

In 1999 Bulgaria presented Macedonia, free of charge, with 94 Russian-made T-55 tanks and 108 heavy mortars. Last year Bulgaria donated munitions and spare parts, valued by the Bulgarian government at $8 million.

Popovski said the tanks, mortars and munitions had helped Macedonia "immensely" to defend its sovereignty against last year's insurgency of the National Liberation Army, a group demanding greater rights for the Albanian minority, which makes up about one-third of Macedonia's population of 2 million.

Popovski did not exclude the possibility of a new outbreak of violence this coming spring but said that in all events it would be of a much lower intensity due to the new situation in the country.

"The implementation of the Ohrid agreement (between Macedonia's main political parties for greater minority rights) has stabilized the situation in the country and the Albanian citizens would not support renewed violence," said the Macedonian defense minister.

Bulgaria and Macedonia have close historical and cultural ties and share the same Eastern Orthodox religion. In recent years cooperation between the two countries has intensified in all fields.

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