- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

BRODEC, Macedonia — With submachine guns slung over their shoulders, hundreds of rebels left their hideouts yesterday and streamed toward a former mountain stronghold to surrender their weapons to NATO, in an operation meant to contribute to permanent peace in Macedonia.
On the second day of their arms-collecting mission, NATO officers at Brodec, just northeast of the ethnically tense northern city of Tetovo, described the insurgents as complying with terms of their agreement with the alliance that commits them to surrendering thousands of weapons.
In exchange, the government in Skopje has agreed to political concessions meant to benefit the ethnic Albanian minority and permanently defuse a six-month ethnic guerrilla campaign before it turns into civil war.
Reporters flown to the site by a NATO helicopter saw approximately 100 rebels lined up to turn in weapons in the space of two hours. Dozens more were seen moving toward the highland village, downhill from surrounding mountains, or making their way up from Tetovo, the site of several major clashes during the height of the insurgency.
Clad in black, or camouflage, some of the rebels smiled and embraced comrades as they arrived at the collection point, a two-story brick house.
The asphalt path to the building was lined by NATO forces. More troops were positioned on surrounding ridges and other strategic areas nearby.
Lt. Col. Chip Chapman, a British paratrooper, said that about 100 weapons had been handed in between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. yesterday. Expectations were that the rebels would hand over about 200 arms by the end of the day, he added.
According to the peace plan, the rebels are handing over weapons to NATO in a British-led mission dubbed Essential Harvest, in exchange for step-by-step political reforms.
Parliament is to begin debating the reforms once a third of the weapons have been surrendered, which could happen by the end of the week. Lawmakers will vote on the legislation only after all weapons have been collected.
The alliance has said it expects to gather 3,300 weapons. But the government insists the true size of the rebel arsenal is much bigger, with Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski setting the figure closer to 60,000.
Col. Chapman said "some surface-to-air missiles" had also been handed over yesterday — the first of their kind to be voluntarily surrendered by the ethnic Albanian insurgents.
"They are very compliant," he said of the ethnic Albanians.
Insurgent commanders said their men were complying with the first stage of the agreement committing them to surrender a third of their weapons. One of them, who identified himself only as Lluli, expressed relief that the armed fight for more ethnic-Albanian rights appeared to be over.
"I hope the operation goes according to plan," Lluli told reporters. "I want to return to normal life."
Fearful that a withdrawal of government troops could leave them vulnerable to attacks by ethnic Albanians, abut 50 Macedonians blockaded a road in Tetovo. The peace agreement mandates withdrawals in areas where rebel and government forces are close to each other.
Many Macedonians blame NATO for the situation in their country, saying the alliance failed to stop the smuggling of weapons and fighters into Macedonia from neighboring Kosovo, considered a major supply route for the rebels. The Yugoslav province of Kosovo is policed by alliance-led peacekeepers.


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