KUMANOVO - Four policemen in Macedonia were injured on Saturday, three seriously, in clashes with gunmen in a region where ethnic Albanian rebels staged an insurgency in 2001, hospital sources said.

The clashes took place during a dawn police raid in the northern town of Kumanovo, which was launched after the authorities ‘received information on the movement of an armed group,’ a police spokesman told reporters. Local media reported that the operation targeted a part of the town populated mainly by ethnic Albanians.

Three policemen who sustained serious injuries were taken to hospital in the capital Skopje, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) to the south, Dragan Tasevski, a hospital doctor in Kumanovo, told reporters. The fourth was treated locally. ‘At this moment there are no clashes, but the operation is still ongoing,’ police spokesman Ivo Kotevski said in a mid-morning briefing, without elaborating.

The incident comes less then three weeks after around 40 ethnic Albanians from neighbouring Kosovo briefly seized control of a police station on Macedonia’s northern border, demanding the creation of an Albanian state in Macedonia. Ethnic Albanians make up around one quarter of Macedonia’s 2.1 million people. The 2001 conflict ended with an agreement providing more rights to the community, but ties between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians remain scarred. The former Yugoslav republic is also battling an economic crisis, with unemployment running at 28 percent.