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Colonel Bob Stewart and Mark Almond
Colonel Bob Stewart and Mark Almond

BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST HOSTED BY PETER SISSONS INTERVIEW: COLONEL BOB STEWART, FORMER BRITISH COMMANDER, BOSNIA, AND MARK ALMOND, BALKANS EXPERT, OXFORD UNIVERSITY AUGUST 19TH, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

PETER SISSONS: Well with me now is Colonel Bob Stewart, former UN commander of British troops in Bosnia, and Mark Almond, a leading specialist on the Balkans from Oxford University. Welcome both. Mark, first, how crucial, how crucial is this mission?

MARK ALMOND: Well it's very important for NATO because if this unravels then of course the whole position of NATO in the neighbouring countries, in Kosovo and in Bosnia, would be made to seem very untenable. But that's the problem that was raised about the question of retreat if there's renewed fighting. Because of course it gives various people an incentive to test what NATO really means. Is it simply a weapons collection operation or is it as some Macedonians suspect a bigger operation really to create a protectorate in their country.

PETER SISSONS: Well, they want to trap us into, into, trap NATO into staying there. What are the pitfalls, Bob?

BOB STEWART: The pitfalls are fundamentally the political leaders have signed up to something and the people on the ground who control the weapons actually don't pay any attention to the political leaders which is often the case and indeed the people who control the weapons on the ground will be differing little groups. And the commander on the ground, I suspect he's trying very hard to get in contact with those people and sustain that contact from now on.

PETER SISSONS: But what in practice will he have to do? He's on a mountain road with a patrol, he comes across a group of armed men. At what point, what happens then?

BOB STEWART: Well I should think there will be a stand-off in that case. In practice what he's going to try and do is to get the ethnic Albanian rebels in particular to come to a set point and hand over those weapons voluntarily and to do that he's actually got to meet all the local commanders. And that's why the sort of, the groups going in, there's 400-strong, I suspect he'll be taking quite senior officers who will go on the ground and stay on the ground so they sustain the contact with those groups.

PETER SISSONS: And do you expect it will be a really, really difficult task, getting, getting rebels who've, who've got their, what they want through use of arms to give the arms up, to collect them?

BOB STEWART: My guess is that the Albanian rebels want these forces in. It's the Macedonians that have a problem. So I suspect it might not be as big a problem as people think. That the real problem will be fundamentally checking to see if what has been signed up to is accepted by the people who actually have the weapons on the ground.

PETER SISSONS: What would you, Mark, say were the priorities of this small military force? The wider, looking at the wider picture?

MARK ALMOND: Well, it's rather puzzling in a way because if you look over the border in Kosovo where much of the weaponry has come into Macedonia from, 40,000 NATO troops have not been successful at disarming people or controlling the flow of weapons and other smuggled goods. So the priority here seems to be, if you like, rather na´ve, can a small force like this hope to succeed unless, as Colonel Stewart, says, the people are willing to co-operate. If they are willing to co-operate, that almost certainly means that the other side in this equation which tends to be neglected, the Macedonians, are going to say, that's because they are in league with NATO. And I think the real threat to the whole operation from the point of view of the security of our troops comes not from the Albanians, who have no real interest in causing trouble, but from those Macedonians who are bitterly disappointed that after many years of facilitating NATO operations, KFOR and Kosovo, from their own territory, they feel that they are really being put upon by NATO to give in and I think that's the risk that really has to be looked at, rather than the Albanians.

PETER SISSONS: And, a NATO source is quoted, Bob, as saying Plan B is that if it doesn't work we'll go home. Is it going to be that easy?

BOB STEWART: No, it won't be that easy and I don't think Plan B will come about. There's too much at stake. Plan B probably won't exist in reality. What's actually going to happen is the brigadier who's on the ground is going to try and work out exactly how to proceed because if he doesn't work out a plan of how to proceed it all goes back to square one and square one isn't possible.

PETER SISSONS: But mission creep as our report earlier said isn't a word, or two words being used yet, but how could it develop? What is the, our, the command on the ground, that we are really worried about? What are the danger signs, that things are drawing him in a, in a way which the terms of reference don't envisage?

BOB STEWART: The easy way is just to not let it happen in 30 days so that NATO actually has to say we have to extend that deadline and then deadlines keep being extended. That's the easy way of actually keeping people involved. After all, the ethnic Albanian rebels don't want NATO to go home. So they want to keep them there. So the way to do it is to make it much more difficult than, than the plan envisages which is exactly what we encountered on so many occasions

PETER SISSONS: Get it done in 30 days

BOB STEWART: Well, the Brigadier is saying let's get it done, I am here, I am going to be the chap in charge, yes, he is indeed going to be the chap in charge from his point of view. But the people on the other side have got vested interests which aren't exactly the same.

PETER SISSONS: Yes. And what, just briefly Mark, would you tell us whether there's a NATO hidden agenda here, to prevent political disintegration and, what you can let men in for.

MARK ALMOND: Yes, I suspect that there are several if you like considerations other than the humanitarian one of trying to stop people killing each other. For instance, Macedonia is strategically next to Kosovo. We have this very large force in Kosovo, most of its supplies come through Macedonia. If Macedonia is unstable or not controlled by people who are sympathetic to us when our forces in Kosovo are in a very vulnerable position. There are also other issues down the road of trans-European pipelines and so on which are going to pass through Macedonia. NATO, the United States doesn't want to see these threatened by instability and by guerrilla warfare.

PETER SISSONS: Mark Almond, Colonel Bob Stewart, thank you both for joining us this morning.


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