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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 11:45 GMT
Nato set to stay in Macedonia
A German Nato soldier on duty in Macedonia
Germany may hand over leadership to another country
Nato has said that it is ready to consider keeping its troops on in Macedonia in order to help shore up a fragile peace between government forces and rebel ethnic Albanians.

Nato is ready to pick up the challenge represented by our continued presence

Nato Secretary-General George Robertson
The government of the former Yugoslav republic has asked for the force of 1,000 peacekeepers to stay on beyond the end of their mandate on 26 March.

Nato Secretary-General George Robertson is on his way to the Macedonian capital, Skopje, on Thursday to discuss the request.

The alliance deployed its forces last summer after ethnic Albanian leaders pledged to give up their arms in return for government reforms.

Leadership uncertain

Nato has asked military experts to examine the proposal for an extension to the troops' stay.

Nato soldier with handed-in weapons
Nato's first mission collected almost 4,000 weapons
"All I can say is that if [the extension] is three, four months, six months, then Nato is ready to pick up the challenge represented by our continued presence and we'll be there to give reassurance to the [international] monitors," Mr Robertson said.

The German leadership of the current Amber Fox mission has already indicated that Nato's task is to be extended.

But it is not clear whether it will pass on responsibility for the force to another nation.

Germany provides 600 of the 1,000 troops, with contributions coming from another 10 countries.


The current force replaced a much larger weapons collecting mission, which oversaw the voluntary disarmament of ethnic Albanian rebels last autumn.

Since then the Macedonian Parliament has been slowly passing some of the reforms it pledged as part of the August peace deal.

These include changes to the constitution as well as increased autonomy for majority ethnic Albanian areas.

But tensions remain high between the ethnic Albanians and the rest of the population and there are fears that the spring will see a repeat of last year's armed insurgency.

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See also:

26 Sep 01 | World
Macedonia: the Nato mission
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