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Thursday, 30 August, 2001, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Nato collects first third of arms
Surrendered arms
Arms collections put ball in Macedonian court
Nato has collected one third of the weapons which ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia agreed to hand over, a top commander said.

This means a key condition has been met for Macedonia's parliament to begin debating political reforms called for by the ethnic Albanian minority.


I really hope this will contribute to the parliamentary process

Major General Gunnar Lange
Major General Gunnar Lange made the announcement as British foreign secretary Jack Straw arrived the capital, Skopje.

Mr Straw was expected to push Macedonia's government to keep to its side of the peace deal and get the reforms approved.

The visit came amid reports of isolated outbreaks of gunfire, and an explosion in the Albanian quarter of Skopje, the fourth to hit the capital in as many days.

Contribution

General Lange, military commander of Nato's Essential Harvest operation, said he had given President Boris Trajkovski a letter informing him that the first stage of Nato's mission was complete.

It is understood about 1,500 arms have been handed over, from an agreed total of 3,300.

Troops securing a collection point
Nato hopes to be out in 30 days

"I really hope this will contribute to the parliamentary process," he said.

Step by step

Under the terms of the peace plan, the rebels' voluntary hand-over of weapons is to be followed by step-by-step political reforms to give the ethnic Albanians more rights.

But political reforms will not be voted on until all the agreed weapons have been handed over.

Macedonia's parliament is due to meet on Friday to begin discussing the reforms.

Nato Secretary-General George Robertson, who visited Macedonia on Wednesday, urged the parliament to pass the reforms.

"Just as I expect the insurgents to disarm, I expect the members of the Macedonian parliament to recognise their responsibilities," he said.

The latest blast in Skopje, as with the previous three, caused no casualties. However, an Albanian-owned restaurant was destroyed.

Macedonian radio also reported shooting incidents around Tetovo in the country's north.

Some Macedonians see the weapons collection programme as pointless, believing the rebels could easily rearm.

But Western diplomats say the collection has an important role in keeping the peace process on track.

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