- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2001

SKOPJE, Macedonia NATO's chief pleaded with Macedonian officials yesterday to honor a Western-brokered peace plan and offer a "tiny ray of sunshine" in a black week of terror attacks in the United States.
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson flew into this capital to underline his support for the plan, which calls for ethnic Albanian rebels to surrender weapons in exchange for the passage of legislation granting ethnic Albanians more rights.
"This has been a black week for the world. The events in New York and Washington cast a shadow not just across America but across the Balkans as well," Mr. Robertson said.
"And yet the people of this country are embarking on a historic venture here in bringing peace and stability," Mr. Robertson said. "So there could be a tiny ray of sunshine from Macedonia that might break the blackness of this terrible week."
The alliance has collected more than 2,200 weapons. The 1,271 arms handed in during the second phase of the operation were disabled yesterday in the Krivolak military base, about 44 miles southeast of Skopje, said spokesman Maj. Alexander Dick. They will be transported to Greece for final destruction.
Commending the collection operation, Mr. Robertson said the plan aimed for "100 percent disarmament."
"It's never been achieved before anywhere else in Europe, and I think Macedonia stands ready to make its own bit of history," he said.
NATO is on a limited 30-day mission in Macedonia and is expected to complete weapons collection by Sept. 26.
The final peace agreement, which includes the constitutional changes giving more rights to the minority ethnic Albanians, is to be passed after NATO has collected all 3,300 weapons that the rebels have agreed to surrender.
Mr. Robertson pressed his case for peace in meetings with President Boris Trajkovski, Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski and parliament speaker Stojan Andov.
He also met with the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Mircea Geoana, to discuss a monitoring mission after the end of the current NATO operation.
Despite the peace agreement, tension continues. Macedonian radio reported an exchange of fire overnight between rebels and security forces around the villages of Ratae and Zilce, near the northwestern city of Tetovo.
No injuries were reported. Western officials have repeatedly expressed concern over the appearance of a Macedonian paramilitary group known as the "Lions."
NATO fears the paramilitaries could make the ethnic Albanian rebels reluctant to hand over any more weapons. The alliance has asked the Macedonian government to clarify whether the Lions are under its control.
Mr. Robertson last visited Skopje in late August.

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