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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
UK troops head for Macedonia
Four hundred UK troops are due by the end of the weekend
An advance party of British troops will arrive in Macedonia on Friday to begin Nato's reconnaissance mission in the troubled Balkan state.

The deployment of troops will see a total of 400 soldiers landing in the country by the end of the weekend.

The soldiers, who will set up headquarters in the Macedonian capital of Skopje, are paving the way for a much larger Nato force of around 3,000 which would oversee the disarmament of ethnic Albanian rebels.

Click here to see map of the region

Nato ambassadors are to meet in Brussels later on Friday to discuss whether the ceasefire in Macedonia is secure enough to allow Operation Essential Harvest to go ahead.

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 troops will arrive in the Balkans just 24 hours after a Macedonian police officer was murdered by rebels.

But a British Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said the killing, blamed on Albanian extremists, would not prevent getting under way.

"It is a civil matter in Macedonia. It is not going to affect our operation in any way," she said.

UK Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram said he expected the mission, which he acknowledged would "not be risk-free", to last for not more than 30 days.
Brigadier White-Spunner
Brigadier White-Spunner is leading the UK mission

But UK shadow defence secretary Iain Duncan Smith said there was a "strong possibility" the mission could last longer.

Nato's ruling council approved the mission after the Macedonian Government gave a formal go-ahead for the deployment of the force.

No alliance member governments objected to the plan.

The advance Nato group, led by Brigadier Barney White-Spunner, has been drawn from Britain's newest rapid reaction force, the 16th Air Assault Brigade.

The brigadier is due to join his men later on Friday after flying in from Naples, Italy where he has been briefed by Nato commanders.

On Thursday he warned that the weapons collection operation would be scrapped if he did not find a commitment to peace.

Testing the water

The troops will be talking to the Albanian rebels on the ground to establish whether they intend to honour their undertakings to hand over their arms voluntarily under the terms of the agreement signed on Monday.

The BBC's Skopje correspondent Paul Adams says there is a sense of relief throughout Macedonia that the international community has at last come to sort out the conflict.

Macedonian troops in trench
Fighting is said to be less intense this week

The Macedonian Government 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.

Once the main operation gets under way Nato troops will not actually disarm the rebels.

The rebels will collect their own weapons and deposit them at pre-arranged collection sites, said Major General Lange, Nato's senior military representative in Macedonia.

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

Defence sources stressed that Nato troops, including around 1,000 from the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, would be only lightly armed and would not be equipped for any wider peace-keeping role in the region.

Destination for the advance party of Nato troops
here to return)

The BBC's Colin Blane
"Nato ambassadors will discuss the way ahead"
Col Edward Cowan
explains the advanced forces task
Macedonian ambassador to the UN Srgjan Kerim
"I don't think the Macedonians have a problem with NATO troops"

Key stories



See also:

16 Aug 01 | Europe
Macedonia: The mission
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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