NATO approves Macedonia force

NATO has approved plans to deploy 3500 troops in Macedonia to collect arms from ethnic Albanian rebels in an operation it considers thraught with risk. The deadline expired for NATO member states to raise objections at noon (on 22 August) and the North Atlantic Council has now agreed to issue the execution directive despite concerns over the fragility of the ceasefire. The directive authorises the Supreme Allied Commander to release the activation order for Operation Essential Harvest.

None of the 19 NATO governments objected to the plan, provisionally approved after a fact-finding mission by NATO’s supreme commander, US General Joseph Ralston. The general told NATO ambassadors in Brussels that a nine-day-old ceasefire was still broadly holding, despite sporadic fighting around the country. He had also warned the ambassadors if they waited too long assessing the situation, the fragile ceasefire could fall apart.

NATO expects to have their troops on the ground in Macedonia inside 48 hours and full deployment within 10 days. Operation Essential Harvest is authorized to last one month from the date all the troops are deployed, and their mission is limited to accepting and destroying weapons turned-in voluntarily. Under NATO’s plan, rebels will collect their own weapons and hand them in at predetermined collection sites.

 

A peace deal was signed on 13 August by the Macedonian government and ethnic Albanian guerrillas with the aim of ending the conflict that has raged for six months. The deal gives official recognition to the Albanian language and outlines plans for the police to reflect more accurately the ethnic balance in the country. Ethnic Albanian guerrillas agreed on 14 August to hand over their arms to NATO forces in return for the promise of amnesty from Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski.

Some 400 British troops have already been deployed in Skopje over the weekend where they have been preparing the groundwork for the full force of 3500 NATO troops to be deployed. The NATO force's purpose is to complete the disarmament of ethnic Albanian guerrillas in a 30 day mission codenamed Operation Essential Harvest.

 

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