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President's body found in plane wreck

Bosnian officials said near Stolac on 27 February that rescue teams have recovered the burned bodies of Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and eight other people whose plane crashed the previous morning, international and regional media reported.

The plane went down in a minefield dating from the 1992-95 conflict located between Mostar and Stolac during bad weather for reasons that have not yet been determined. A Bosnian mine-clearing unit discovered the wreck soon after sunrise the day after the crash. The Bosnian government declared 27 February a day of mourning.

In Skopje, Macedonian officials confirmed that the bodies have been recovered. Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski said soon after the crash that his country has "suffered a great loss," and the government announced three days of mourning.

...As the Parliament mourns

The parliament interrupted its 26 February session when the news broke of President Trajkovski's death, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Macedonian and ethnic Albanian legislators from all political parties sent condolences to Trajkovski's and his staffers' families.

Some legislators, such as former Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule and Ljubislav Ivanov-Dzingo, argued that the ill-fated airplane, a 25-year-old Beechcraft Super King Air B200, was not safe.

According to "Utrinski vesnik," the plane has repeatedly had technical problems. Casule and other officials said that they previously refused to use it, Reuters reported.

...The Government launches an investigation

At a special session late on 26 February, the Macedonian government set up a commission headed by Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti to investigate the plane crash, "Dnevnik" reported.

Mehmeti and a team of investigative judges, prosecutors, police, intelligence officers, and air-traffic experts left for the crash site near Stolac to help SFOR and the Bosnian authorities establish the cause of the accident.

An extraordinary session of the National Security Council, headed by parliamentary speaker and now acting President Ljupco Jordanovski, concluded that there is no immediate threat to the country's security following Trajkovski's death. Under the Macedonian Constitution, presidential elections must be held within 40 days after a president's death.

...And U.S. Secretary of State pays tribute

Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington on 26 February that Trajkovski "was a great friend of the United States,". "When I became secretary of state in January of 2001, one of the first issues I had to deal with was the crisis in Macedonia. The place was coming apart," Powell added.

He noted that he and Trajkovski became friends and "worked through the problems of Macedonia to the point now where Macedonia's on a stable footing." Powell added that "we have much to be proud of as to what we have accomplished in Macedonia, with our European friends, the Macedonian people, and the Macedonian leaders, especially President Trajkovski. So he will be greatly missed, and we wish the Macedonian people all the best in this time of tragedy."

Elsewhere, RFE/RL President Tom Dine said in a statement that he and his colleagues "at RFE/RL are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Boris Trajkovski.... In a region fraught with national, ethnic, and religious tensions, President Trajkovski was a welcome voice of moderation, compassion, and tolerance."

(RFE/RL 27.ii.04)

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