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Wednesday, 22 May, 2002, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Nato prolongs Macedonia mission
A German Nato soldier on duty in Macedonia
Germany hands over command to the Dutch in June
Nato has extended its peacekeeping mission in Macedonia by four months, alliance officials in the capital Skopje said.

The mandate of the 700-strong lightly-armed European troops will now continue until 26 October, as Macedonia's peace process draws to a close.

"The decision follows a request from the president of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for Nato to continue its mission," a Nato statement said.

The BBC's Nick Wood says the decision comes as little surprise, as the German-led mission - whose official role is to protect 200 or so ceasefire monitors - is seen as having a stabilising effect on the region.

However, the announcement rules out for the moment a proposal by the European Union to take command of the mission because of a dispute between Turkey and Greece.

Peace deal

The Nato mission was initially deployed in September last year to oversee a fragile peace process that ended a six-month fighting between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and government forces.

Nato soldier with handed-in weapons
Nato's first mission collected almost 4,000 weapons

But violence has died out after a Western-brokered peace deal was signed in August.

It gave ethnic Albanians more rights in return for their disarming and disbanding, and also enabled police to return to all areas affected by the conflict.

Nato then deployed thousands of troops to collect weapons from the rebels, and later sent a smaller follow-up mission.

Bogged down

However, the troops' mission has become the focus of intense debate over European defence policy.

The EU had proposed to take command of the mission this September, making it the first military venture in its history.

However the proposal would involve Nato lending the EU some of its equipment and troops.

This, in turn, has led to an argument between the region's long-standing foes, Greece and Turkey.

Turkey - a member of NATO, but not the EU - wants a say in how that equipment is used.

Greece has objected, and for the moment the EU's attempt to develop its military wing is going nowhere.


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07 Feb 02 | Europe
26 Sep 01 | In Depth
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