- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2001

NATO yesterday decided to send U.S. and other allied forces to Macedonia in the alliance's third Balkan mission in less than a decade.
The North Atlantic Council (NAC) decided to send 400 British troops to the conflict-torn former Yugoslav republic by the weekend to prepare for a 3,500-member force mandated to collect weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels.
"The conditions on the ground must also be right before any deployment can occur," said Maj. Gen. Gunnar Lange, who will command the NATO force in Macedonia. "The cease-fire must be respected. Our soldiers will not come here to enforce a peace."
U.S. participation in what has been code-named Operation Essential Harvest will be limited to providing logistical support rather than directly collecting weapons, State Department and Pentagon officials said.
"A few hundred Americans," most of whom are already part of the NATO contingent in the region, will help with "command and control, medical assistance, communications and transportation," said Philip Reeker, the State Department's deputy spokesman.
The ethnic Albanian guerrillas agreed to voluntary disarmament and will receive amnesty from the Macedonian government under Monday's complex agreement to avert civil war. The rebels have been waging an insurgency since February in what they say is a fight for improved rights for the ethnic Albanian minority in Macedonia.
The accord, signed Monday, grants state funding for Albanian higher education and gives the Albanian language limited official status along with Macedonian. Its terms also include a guarantee of police jobs for Albanians, based on their proportion in the overall population.
NATO has said it will deploy its force when it determines that the truce is successful and the two sides take steps to implement the agreement.
Mr. Reeker said there have been signs this is happening, in spite of some reports of continuing fighting.
"The alliance is monitoring the situation very closely and is prepared to deploy rapidly once the NAC has authorized deployment," he said. "We have seen reports of sporadic gunfire and reports of violence here and there, but overall the situation is calm. It's very important that that cease-fire hold. Obviously that's a crucial element in bringing in the NATO deployment as an element in this whole process."
At NATO's headquarters in Brussels, spokesman Yves Brodeur said no member state had objected to the decision to send the advance group to Macedonia in the next few days to set up the headquarters and communications for the larger force.
The alliance left the decision on deploying the full force for later this week or early next week. Diplomatic sources said several countries, including Germany, France and the Netherlands, had reservations about sending in the full force before there was evidence that the cease-fire would last.
NATO officials hope the alliance's new mission will be much shorter than its first two Balkan operations — in Bosnia and Kosovo.
They said the alliance is acting cautiously, but it wants to take advantage of "the positive momentum toward peace and stability."
NATO is to set up weapons-collection points around Macedonia where guerrillas will voluntarily dump guns, bullets and mortars. NATO will then destroy the stockpiles.
Britain is expected to provide the bulk of the force — more than 1,000 troops — with contingents from France, Italy and Greece.
Germany is considering sending about 800 troops, but officials said the measure might have a hard time in parliament, which will discuss it at a special session next week.
According to a French diplomatic source, Paris will probably send about 500 troops.
In Skopje, the Macedonian capital, Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said yesterday the government expected NATO's mission to last 60 days — 15 for deployment, 30 to collect weapons and 15 to pull out.
NATO said deployment would take two weeks, although weapons collection could start earlier.
Arne Delf contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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