SKOPJE, Macedonia — Government troops pounded ethnic Albanian rebel strongholds with heavy artillery Sunday as European Union and NATO leaders headed to the capital to show support for Macedonia's government but talk it out of declaring a state of war.
In midafternoon, shells were falling nearly every minute near the villages of Vaksince and Slupcane, about 25 miles northeast of Skopje, the capital. A team of Red Cross workers said hundreds of civilians were hiding in basements in the villages, and artillery explosions were also heard in the city of Tetovo.
Sunday's onslaught only added to growing fears about the Balkans' stability. Late Saturday, the government said it was planning to launch consultations on whether to declare a state of war, which would give wide-ranging powers to security forces and President Boris Trajkovski. Government sources said such a decision could be made at a parliament session Tuesday.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Sweden said they were opposed to such a move.
"Rather than talk about a state of war, we should discuss a state of peace," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who headed to Skopje on Sunday for talks with Trajkovski and the prime minister. George Robertson, secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was expected to join them today.
According to the Macedonian Constitution, a two-thirds majority in the unicameral parliament is needed to declare a state of war. Because Slavic parties have this margin in the chamber, approval appears assured.