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Tuesday, 20 March, 2001, 08:02 GMT
The military balance
Macedonian soldier
More troops are being deployed at the front
By Defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

Western military experts believe that the Macedonian Army could prevail in a pitched battle - but that the ethnic Albanian fighters are likely to just melt away if the Macedonians press home their attack.

Macedonian tank
Much of Macedonia's armour is ancient and obsolete
The Macedonian military and police are not very well trained, and are poorly equipped. The army has some very old T-55 tanks and a variety of wheeled armoured personnel carriers of standard Soviet-bloc types.

It also has a number of US-supplied Humvee type utility vehicles, delivered in the initial stage of a concerted western attempt to re-build the Macedonian army into a more effective force.

Humvee
The army has only a few US-made Humvee vehicles
This programme is only in its early phase though, and some western experts believe that the Macedonians only have a handful of units capable of mounting effective military action.

Ranged against them is a motley assortment of ethnic Albanian fighters - some experienced, some little more than raw recruits.

This force is estimated at some several hundred, though its numbers are fluid. They are seen as being well-equipped for what they are, with anti-tank weapons and some mortars.

Guerrilla war

The rebels are essentially light guerrilla forces, and are able to exploit the difficult terrain; a factor that hampers Nato's efforts to seal the Kosovo-Macedonia border.

NLA rebels
The rebels are lightly armed, but highly mobile
A network of donkey tracks runs through the mountains; quite sufficient to carry the logistical support for this type of force.

Clearly Nato hopes that additional pressure on both sides of the border will force the insurgents to give ground.

But western military experts are concerned that the government forces do not have sufficient strength in depth to engage in a long-running counter-insurgency campaign.

And the longer the campaign goes on, so the greater the danger to the fragile social and political fabric of the Macedonian state.


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