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Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Nato 'may prolong' Macedonia mission
Nato troops in Macedonia
Troops may have to stay an extra two or three months

Doubts have been raised about the future of the international peacekeeping operation in Macedonia.

Nato is due to hand over command of the operation to the European Union at the end of October.

An ethnic Albanian rebel
Violence has died out after a peace deal last August

But now two senior diplomats, from Nato and from the EU, have told BBC News that Nato will probably have to stay on for another two to three months.

A disagreement between Greece and Turkey is stymieing EU attempts to forge a defence capability.

The operation, called Amber Fox, is a small affair - only around 700 troops, with the job of protecting international monitors in Macedonia.

But for the European Union, Amber Fox is deeply significant.

It was meant to begin on 27 October - and would have been the moment the European security and defence policy came to fruition.

But sources in the office of Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, have said to expect a delay of a month or more.

A senior diplomat at Nato put the delay at two or three months.

Turkish objections

The problem is that Turkey - a member of Nato - has balked at the prospect of the EU having access to Nato assets when they then might be used against Turkish interests.

An agreement was hammered out to prevent that - but then Greece said it wanted a reciprocal agreement protecting it. Turkey then objected.


Until Greece and Turkey can resolve their differences, the rapid reaction force will be going nowhere.

Diplomats in both the EU and Nato say the gap between the Turkish and Greek positions is tiny.

But they say there is a vast deficit in terms of the political will on both sides to secure agreement.

Making matters worse, they frankly concede, is the fact that Turkey's elections, due in November, make negotiations now extremely difficult.

Nor does this just have implications for Operation Amber Fox.

The EU has plans to have a rapid reaction force of 60,000 soldiers ready for deployment by June of next year.

That force is seen as key to the EU's global prestige.

Until Greece and Turkey can resolve their differences, the rapid reaction force will be going nowhere.

See also:

16 Sep 02 | Europe
22 May 02 | Europe
07 Feb 02 | Europe
26 Sep 01 | In Depth
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