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Sunday, 16 September, 2001, 01:26 GMT 02:26 UK
Macedonia wants residual peace force
Nato troops
Troops could stay after weapons have been collected
By Paul Anderson in Skopje

Diplomatic sources in Macedonia say its leaders are to ask Nato to keep a limited force in the country to protect western peace monitors after the bulk of Alliance troops pull out at the end of the month.

News of the agreement, corroborated by un-named government sources, comes a day after the visit to Skopje by Nato Secretary General Lord Robertson.

In a peace process fraught with problems, the agreement to keep a small reconfigured Nato force behind in Macedonia, after the bulk of its troops pull out at the end of the month, is a breakthrough.

The weapons collection point at the village of Brodec west of Skopje
Nato says its weapons collection programme is on course
The Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, is quoted as saying he's willing to invite a force of 350 troops to deploy discretely to the areas of conflict in the north and north west.

Their task will be to protect western peace monitors.

The Macedonians had been insisting their army and police forces would guarantee their security, but that was unacceptable to the monitors themselves and was feared by the Albanians.

They have now handed in two thirds of the 3,000-plus weapons Nato aimed to collect and destroy.

No formal request has been put to Nato yet, but diplomatic sources in Skopje say a decision could be reached in days rather than weeks.

Problem solved

If so, it is one more problem solved, but there are others ahead, not least the continued presence of Macedonian paramilitaries close to sensitive areas and the fact that parliament has yet to pass a partial amnesty for rebels.

Nato Secretary General Lord Robertson
Lord Robertson has urged parliament to move quickly

It has also got to take a first reading of a set of constitutional changes favouring Macedonia's Albanian minority.

Without it Nato cannot begin the third and final phase of weapons collection.

Lord Robertson urged parliament to move quickly and described efforts by some hard-line Macedonian politicians to call a referendum on the changes they are being asked to approve as a "spoiler", designed to derail the process.


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See also:

08 Sep 01 | Europe
Macedonia marks tense anniversary
07 Sep 01 | Europe
Nato: No Macedonia mission creep
01 Sep 01 | Europe
Macedonia's landscape of fear
31 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Macedonia: Wobbling Balkans domino
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