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Wednesday, 22 August, 2001, 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK
Is Nato's mission impossible?
Czech troops
Analysts ask whether the mission can be completed in 30 days
Nato's Secretary-General, George Robertson, says the deployment of 3,500 troops to Macedonia is a historic step for security and stability in the Balkans.

But observers have already raised doubts about whether the mission to collect weapons from ethnic Albanian guerrillas is realistic, and are asking what will happen when the official 30-day time limit for the operation is up, reports the BBC's diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason.

It is still the holiday season in Europe and political debate about the Macedonia mission is muted.

But almost all the commentators are dubious: The best they can find to say, like Mr Robertson, is that the risks of not sending the Nato force are greater than the dangers involved in this particular operation.

What they won't do

It is easy to say what the troops will not do.

They will not use force to disarm the Albanian rebels, only collect weapons voluntarily handed in.


It may not be realistic for western governments to imagine that an operation of this kind, relying on consent, not compulsion, will enable them to get out of Macedonia quickly

They will not enforce the ceasefire - they do not even have a peace-keeping mandate.

Neither will they act to police or guarantee the political agreement giving greater rights to the Albanian minority in Macedonia.

That must be implemented in parallel with the disarmament process - otherwise, as Nato admits, there will be trouble.

The disagreement between the guerrillas and the Macedonian Government about how many weapons should be handed in shows the potential for delay.

The Nato troops could also be dragged into clashes between the two sides, or stand by unable to intervene which would look just as bad.

So it is inevitable for commentators to ask whether the mission can be completed in 30 days and how Nato can possibly walk out again if things get worse.

Policy contradictions

There are contradictions in western policy.

The politicians emphasised that Macedonia was different from previous Balkan crises because it had a democratic and multi-ethnic government.

Nato Secretary-General George Robertson
Robertson: The risks of not sending Nato are greater than the dangers of this operation
But if that is the case, especially now that concessions to the Albanians have been agreed, why should Nato not take a much tougher line in disarming the guerrillas?

The Czech President, Vaclav Havel, echoed a common view when he said that this time Nato was acting swiftly, having learnt the lesson that long hesitations in Bosnia and Kosovo had resulted in immense human cost.

But it may not be realistic for western governments to imagine that an operation of this kind, relying on consent, not compulsion, will enable them to get out of Macedonia quickly.


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See also:

22 Aug 01 | Europe
Green light for Macedonia mission
21 Aug 01 | Europe
Macedonia's bitter divide
17 Aug 01 | Europe
Macedonia mission 'too short'
15 Aug 01 | Europe
Q&A: Macedonia conflict explained
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