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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Analysis: What next for Macedonia?
A Nato soldier watches Hungarian metal workers destroying weapons of the National Liberation Army
Collected rebel weapons are destroyed
By the BBC's South-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

Nato is wrapping up its mission to collect weapons handed in by the ethnic Albanian guerrillas of the National Liberation Army, or NLA.

But the political reforms to extend the ethnic Albanians' collective rights have yet to be ratified by the Macedonian parliament where the debate on this issue has been prolonged by several delays.

We have collected the number of weapons that we'd intended to when we came in here that were promised by the NLA to be voluntarily turned over

Nato spokesman Major Barry Johnson
So what are the successes of the Macedonian peace processes so far and what are the problems lying ahead?

Nato was given a one-month mandate in Macedonia to collect and destroy 3,300 weapons that the NLA had agreed to surrender.

The deal was reached in August after the NLA's six-month conflict with Macedonian security forces.

The process of collecting the arms - known as Operation Essential Harvest - has now been completed on schedule.

Nato spokesman Major Barry Johnson said:" We have collected the number of weapons that we'd intended to when we came in here that were promised by the NLA to be voluntarily turned over.

Greek soldiers check weapons collected by Nato troops from ethnic Albanian rebels the National Liberation Army at an army base in Krivolak
Nato completes its target of 3,300 weapons

"More importantly, is the fact that we've continually seen a decrease in incidents and the environment is vastly improved since we've been here. But the environment has to remain secure so people can believe that they can live and work together once again."

But the success of Operation Essential Harvest does not mean the end of Nato's mission in Macedonia.

Although the bulk of the British-led 4,500-strong contingent is being pulled out in the next two weeks, a smaller force of perhaps around 1,000 soldiers is going to take over on a longer-term mission.

The task of that new German-led mission - Operation Amber Fox - will be to protect the 120 or so civilian monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Union who will be overseeing the implementation of the peace deal.

The new, smaller Nato contingent - with a mandate of perhaps six to nine months - is part of a compromise arrangement.

NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson passes by Turkish troops in Macedonia
Lord Robertson warns that constitutional changes must not be delayed

The Macedonian side is suspicious of any foreign military presence, fearing that its task might be to police the effective partition of Macedonia between government-controlled and ethnic Albanian-held areas.

The ethnic Albanians would like a large Nato presence to protect them from possible retaliation from the Macedonians now that the NLA has given up a sizeable part of its arsenal.

The end result of much hard bargaining was to agree on the stationing of a small Nato force in Macedonia.

And as far as Macedonia's Western partners are concerned, its task is limited to protecting the unarmed observers. There is always the possibility, though, of mission-creep - of Nato troops being sucked into other, potentially more dangerous activities.

And more so since the peace process in Macedonia is far from over.

It is an enormous step towards peace. It is a unique event

Nato's envoy to Macedonia, Joerg Eiff

There have been repeated delays in the parliamentary procedure. As a result, the 15 constitutional amendments which give the ethnic Albanians more extensive collective rights have yet to receive full ratification.

There has been even less progress on an amnesty for the NLA's fighters which President Boris Trajkovski announced at the start of the peace talks, but this has not been followed up so far by a formal procedure.

The delays have prompted Nato's envoy to Macedonia, Joerg Eiff, to ram home the message that further political measures need to be taken now - whatever the success of the mission to collect the NLA's weapons.

He said: "It is an enormous step towards peace. It is a unique event regarding not only the Balkans' recent history - a movement of this kind voluntarily surrenders its weapons and simply declares it self-disbandment.

Macedonian parliament
The constitutional amendments have yet to receive full ratification

"It is not everything and the other side of course, the official Macedonian side and the entire society of course, this reconciliation must follow suit.

"The political process has not been advancing as desired, not quite. An amnesty is being eagerly awaited. The political process will have to implement an agreement on constitutional arrangements which will improve the legal and political situation of the Albanians in this country."

Nato's Secretary-General, George Robertson, used much more dramatic language during a visit to Skopje.

He warned that Macedonia could face the bleak prospect of sliding into renewed conflict and possible civil war if the required constitutional changes were not adopted in time.

Lord Robertson's warning was based, at least in part, on an awareness that the ethnic Albanian fighters have not handed in all their weapons.

Weapons still hidden

The NLA may have largely demobilised for now - but ethnic Albanians are still believed to have many weapons hidden away. And they may restart their struggle if they believe that the provisions of the Ohrid agreement are not being carried out.

That is why there is an urgent need for speedy progress to make the required constitutional changes and to recruit ethnic Albanians into the police force so that their numbers would reflect their share of the population.

But some Macedonian politicians - particularly those in Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski's centre-right Vmre-Dpmne party, are worried that they might alienate many of their supporters if they implement the deal in full.

They have even been discussing putting the constitutional changes to a referendum - which could torpedo the entire deal.

With parliamentary elections due within four months, an informal election campaign has already got underway. And many politicians are trying to outbid their rivals in their appeal to nationalism - making their campaign cast a dark shadow over the peace process.

The BBC's Paul Anderson
"The next priority for Nato is to deploy a small follow on force"
Lord Robertson, Nato Secretary General
"This mission has been a success"

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