Five people shot dead in Macedonia murder: police

SKOPJE Fri Apr 13, 2012 9:11am EDT

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SKOPJE (Reuters) - Police in Macedonia have found the bodies of five people who had been shot dead near a lake just outside the capital Skopje, the authorities said on Friday, a grisly find that risks fuelling tensions in the ethnically-volatile country.

Police said they had yet to identify the victims or the perpetrators and did not know what the motive for the crime might be either.

"On the scene we uncovered bullet casings, trails of blood and all the bodies had visible gunshot wounds," the interior ministry said in a statement.

Four of the victims were in their late teens and twenties, it added, while the fifth victim was a 40-year-old man. A fisherman found the bodies on the shore of a lake near the village of Smiljkovci, just outside Skopje, late on Thursday.

Hundreds of people from a local village gathered to demand a quick investigation, throwing stones at cars travelling along a local road. Authorities responded by deploying riot police.

Although the police did not disclose the victims' ethnicity, one of the theories likely to be considered - among others - is that the killings were linked to rising ethnic tensions in the poor country of two million people.

Only last month, several people were injured and dozens were arrested in a string of tit-for-tat attacks between youths from Macedonia's Slavic-speaking majority and ethnic Albanian minority.

The timing of the killings - on the eve of Orthodox Good Friday and just two days ahead of Easter - could fuel further tensions in the former Yugoslav republic.

At least a quarter of Macedonia's population is ethnic Albanian, living mainly in the north and west.

Police sealed off the crime scene and said an investigation was underway.

In 2001, fighting broke out between government security forces and ethnic Albanian fighters until Western diplomacy pulled them back from the brink of civil war.

A decade on, tensions persist, fuelled by poverty and the slow pace of integration with the European Union and NATO.

(Reporting by Kole Casule; Editing by Aleksandar Vasovic and Andrew Osborn)

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