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Monday, 27 August, 2001, 22:33 GMT 23:33 UK
Nato 'satisfied' with weapons haul
 French troops arrive at weapons collection point in Otlja
Nato forces moved in by air to the first collection site
Hundreds of weapons have been collected from ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia, as Nato's weapons collection task force set to work.

The rebels, meanwhile, have released seven more prisoners in the north of the country, in an apparent gesture of goodwill.

The International Red Cross says 15 prisoners who had been seized in or around the second city of Tetovo have been set free in the last two days.

Sapper Ian Collins
Sapper Ian Collins died when youths attacked his vehicle
But Monday was overshadowed by the death of a British soldier, killed near the capital, Skopje, after youths threw a lump of concrete at his vehicle.

The incident happened on Sunday evening as the soldier - Sapper Ian Collins of the 9th Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers - drove the military vehicle along the main road towards Skopje from the airport.

His death did not halt the weapons collection, which began hours later in a barn in the village of Otjla, near the town of Kumanovo.

About 400 weapons were handed in during the day, said Nato officials, at a site jointly run by 300 French and British forces.


The arsenal included more than 350 Kalashnikovs - but heavy machine-guns, landmines and mortars were also surrendered. Some of the weapons were new, Nato said - countering speculation that the National Liberation Army would hand over only its oldest, poorest arms.

I deplore this deliberate act of violence

Nato head
Lord Robertson
Officials said the haul matched Nato's target for the first day. The task force will aim to collect 3,300 before declaring the mission completed.

The surrendered weapons will be moved to a special arms dump in the centre of Macedonia, run by Greek forces, before being taken out of the country and destroyed.

The attack which killed Sapper Collins, 22, was described as "disgraceful" by Nato officials.

Sapper Collins was taken to hospital, but died in the early hours of Monday morning. A second soldier was in the vehicle with him, but escaped unhurt.

The BBC's Nick Thorpe in Skopje says many Macedonians from the majority population resent Nato's arrival, accusing the forces of being biased towards the ethnic Albanian rebels - but he says there is no indication as to who carried out the attack.

Weapons handover to include:
Two tanks
Two armoured personnel carriers
Six anti-tank weapons
130 mortars and 210 machine guns
Nato Secretary-General Lord Robertson condemned the killing, but said "isolated irresponsible acts of violence" would not deter the mission.

"I deplore this deliberate act of violence, which is absurd considering that Nato troops are in Macedonia to assist the people and the government of that country in achieving a peaceful and lasting solution to the current crisis," he said.

Despite Nato's satisfaction at the first day's work, questions remain over how effective the weapons collection will be.

Nato commanders say the operation will result in a meaningful reduction in weapons and is an important step towards disbanding the guerrillas.

Arsenal row

But nationalist elements within the Macedonian Government have dismissed the exercise, alleging that the rebels possess an arsenal of at least 70,000 arms.

NLA rebel  and armoured personnel carrier
Rebels have handed over hundreds of guns
Nationalist Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski has described the Nato numbers as "laughable and humiliating for Macedonia."

The collection of weapons is a key part of an agreement designed to end months of conflict in the Balkan state.

In return, the Macedonian Government has agreed to various amendments to the constitution that will benefit the country's ethnic Albanian minority.

New demands

However, hours before the operation began, the government put forward a new set of demands.

An adviser to Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski told the BBC that security forces expected to be in a position to re-occupy territory held by ethnic Albanian rebels by the end of the operation.

The government also wanted to see the swift return of up to 50,000 Macedonians forcibly displaced from their homes, and the release of all prisoners held by the NLA.

The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Skopje
"Nato says the first day... was a success"
Nato spokesman Major Barry Johnson
"The vast majority would like the process to end successfully"
Andrea Michaelis, German Foreign Ministry spokesman
"There has to be a measure of self defence"

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