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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
Nato approves first Macedonia troops
British Nato soldier
The advance force will be made up of British troops
Nato's ruling council has approved the sending of a 400-strong advance party of mainly British troops to Macedonia, as part of a Nato force to oversee the disarmament of ethnic Albanian rebels.

The decision followed the Macedonian Government's formal go-ahead for the 3,500-strong force.

Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva told a news conference she expected the British troops to arrive by the weekend.

No alliance member governments objected to the plan.

The advance Nato group being proposed - drawn from the British 16th Air Assault Brigade - will have the task of setting up headquarters and assessing the situation on the ground.

Then if the peace holds it will signal for the rest of the disarmament force to be sent in.

Major General Lange
Lange: the troops will not be disarming the rebels
The Macedonian Government also appears to have agreed that rebels who keep their promise to disarm will receive an amnesty, another condition Nato has made central to its sending the full force.

"The question of an amnesty is a part of the peace process that has already begun," a statement from President Boris Trajkovski's office said on Wednesday.

The general assigned to command the entire Nato force has said that the operation could not begin unless a durable ceasefire was in place.

"The ceasefire must be respected. Our soldiers will not come here to enforce a peace," Danish General Gunnar Lange said in Skopje.

Pre-arranged collection

Major General Lange, Nato's senior military representative in Macedonia, has also been at pains to stress that once the main operation gets under way Nato troops would not actually disarm the rebels.

Peace accord's key points
Amends constitution to remove ethnic references
Makes Albanian second official language in some areas
More ethnic Albanians in police and other institutions
Allows degree of self-rule in Albanian-dominated areas
Census to be held to establish country's exact ethnic mix ahead of elections
The rebels, he said, would collect their own weapons and deposit them at pre-arranged collection sites.

Nato troops would then move in, seal the area, pick up the weapons and leave.

The guns would then be taken out of Macedonia for destruction in a third country.

The mission, codenamed Operation Essential Harvest, is expected to last just 30 days.

Major General Lange said that the rebels would not just disarm, but also disband.

A team of 15 Nato experts arrived in Macedonia on Tuesday to assess whether the peace deal signed on Monday can work.

Implementing the accord

On Wednesday Mr Trajkovski formally began the process of implementing the peace accord, a statement from his office said.

Mr Trajkovski made an official request to parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov that he open a session to discuss the adoption of constitutional reforms to boost the minority rights of ethnic Albanians, the statement said.

However, Mr Andov warned on Tuesday that no session could be opened until the planned Nato task force had collected a third of the 2,000 rebel weapons due to be surrendered.

Despite the peace deal there have been continuing reports of small-scale fighting in and around the northern city of Tetovo.

Observers say the most recent fighting has been less intense than last week, when about 30 people died in the fiercest battles seen since the beginning of the fighting in February.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Adams in Skopje
"No one expects the coming weeks to be easy"
The BBC's Justin Webb at Nato headquarters
"The initial deployment is now going to start"
Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman, Menzies Campbell
"The rules of engagement will be extremely robust"

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See also:

14 Aug 01 | Europe
Nato force waits for word to go
12 Aug 01 | Europe
Macedonia urges Nato action
10 Aug 01 | Europe
Macedonia buries ambush victims
06 Aug 01 | Europe
Nato ready for Macedonia action
20 Mar 01 | Europe
The military balance
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