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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 06:30 GMT 07:30 UK
Nato ready for Macedonia action
Macedonian policeman
Liaison teams will be attached to the Macedonian army
The Nato force of up to 3,500 soldiers which is beginning to deploy would be fully operational within two weeks, and would be required to finish the task in 30 days.

K-For soldier
The task force will benefit from support provided for K-For
The headquarters and up to 1,000 troops is due to be supplied by the UK's 16 Air Assault Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Barney White-Spunner.

Operation Essential Harvest, as it is known, would be under the ultimate command of Major General Gunnar Lange, a Swede who is Nato's senior military representative in Macedonia, and commander of K-For Rear.

It will, however, have a separate headquarters near the capital, Skopje.

Collection points

Apart from the UK, 11 other countries have indicated their willingness to supply troops to the Macedonia task force.

Task force contributors
Czech Republic
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Italy
The Netherlands
Norway
Spain
UK
US
Four sub-commands would be led by France, Greece, Italy and Britain.

US troops will play a leading role in information gathering and logistics - a contribution that experts say reflects Washington's reluctance to get heavily involved.

The task force's mission will be to set up 15 collection points in the hills that stretch in an arc across western and northern Macedonia, linking Tetovo and Kumanovo.

Click here to see a map of the area

The ethnic Albanian insurgents, who have been fighting in the mountains for six months, would come down from their hideouts and hand in their weapons.


How can you be sure that all you have collected represents the weapons that are there?... We cannot be sure

Nato spokesman Yves Brodeur
The Nato troops are mandated to destroy the weapons they take in.

Most of the troops will be flown in from outside the Balkans, following a decision by Nato defence ministers in May to maintain troops in Kosovo at their current level.

Some, however, may be drawn from the roughly 3,000 Nato troops currently in Macedonia under General Lange's command.

Voluntary handover

The force is expected to be lightly armed, relying on helicopters, jeeps and light trucks rather than heavy battle tanks.

It is not known how many, or what kind of weapons, the guerrillas will hand in. They are known to possess 120mm mortars; reports that they have shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles remain unconfirmed.

"In Kosovo when we started to pick up weapons we had no idea what to expect, and we ended up with several lorries of different sorts of equipment," said Nato spokesman Yved Brodeur.

"This is something that functions on the basis of trust. How can you be sure that all you have collected represents the weapons that are there? There is no clear answer. We cannot be sure."

Some analysts expect the rebels to keep their best weapons, and hand in the worst.

Amnesty

The task force will only be deployed after the conclusion of a political agreement between Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders, and only if there is a solid ceasefire.

Rebels
Nato's presence may encourage rebels to come down from the mountains
Another condition is a "technical agreement with the so-called NLA (National Liberation Army) to voluntarily hand over their weapons".

Nato spokesman Major Barry Johnson said on Monday it was not clear whether such an agreement would be forthcoming before the Macedonian parliament approves the settlement agreed in political negotiations. If not there could be a further delay before the force is deployed.

Major Johnson added that for the peace process to work, "the issue for amnesty (for the rebels) still has to be addressed".

Booby traps

Although the task force is not envisaged as an "interposition" force to disengage the two sides, its presence is expected to make the rebels feel safer coming down from the mountains.

Experts say one risk the task force will face is from rebels who have not heard about the ceasefire, mistaking the Nato troops for Macedonians.

Another is from mines and booby traps laid along mountain paths.

BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus says one fear is that once the rebels are disarmed the pressure on the Skopje government will be relieved.

It may then be very hard to gather the necessary impetus for fundamental political reforms.


Map of north-western Macedonia

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See also:

14 Mar 01 | Europe
Macedonia conflict escalates
15 Mar 01 | Europe
In pictures: Macedonia rebellion
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