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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
Macedonia: The mission
British soldiers
British troops will arrive ahead of Nato forces
The 16 Air Assault Brigade will act as Nato's "eyes and the ears" in Macedonia, according to the UK's Ministry of Defence.

Up to 400 troops from the brigade are heading to the region over the weekend, following Monday's peace deal between Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders.

Brigadier Barney White-Spunner
Brigadier Barney White-Spunner will lead the troops
The mission will assess the strength of the ceasefire and the risks involved, before a further 3,000 Nato troops are sent in.

The larger force will then oversee the collection and destruction of weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels, in a mission meant to be no longer than 30 days.

The 8,000-strong 16 Air Assault Brigade was formed on 1 September 1999 from an amalgamation of 24 Airmobile and 5 Airborne brigades.

It is a unique formation within the British Army, bringing together air corps and parachute capabilities, which was designed to open or secure points of entry for other land or air forces.

The MoD once described it as "the most potent fighting force we have ever had".

Face-to-face contact

An MoD spokesperson said: "The 16 Air Assault Brigade volunteered for this mission because this is what we are good at.

"We are good at getting in quickly, doing the job and getting out quickly."

The Brigade's task in the first few days of the mission will be to establish its headquarters.

Liaison teams will then begin to make face-to-face contact with all elements of the National Liberation Army throughout the country.

We are good at getting in quickly, doing the job and getting out quickly

MOD spokesperson
These meetings will enable the troops to assess the strength of the peace agreement and the potential risks and hazards to Nato troops.

Based on information brought back from the ground, mission leader Brigadier Barney White-Spunner will decide whether the conditions are right for a full Nato deployment.

'Risky environment'

"These troops are serving as an advance party," said the MoD spokesperson.

"It is a risky environment and there may well be elements of the National Liberation Army which do not want to co-operate with the terms of the agreement.

"There is a certain amount of unhappiness with Nato as a whole within the region, but, as far as we are aware, our troops are well-respected and we are seen as being fair, honest and impartial.

"We are therefore quite confident that this mission will be a success."

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