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 Monday, 20 January, 2003, 20:27 GMT
EU prepares for Macedonia mission
Nato troops in Macedonia
Nato's mission comes up for review in February
The European Union is finalising its preparations to take over the Nato peacekeeping mission in Macedonia, following an official request from Skopje.

EU foreign ministers are expected to approve the legal basis for the mission next week.

The EU should be ready to take over in March

Christina Gallach
EU spokeswoman
If agreed, it will be the first time the EU has become involved in the management of military crises.

About 700 Nato troops are deployed in Macedonia to protect international observers monitoring a Western-brokered peace deal.

The accord ended a six-month conflict between Macedonian Government forces and ethnic Albanians fighting for more rights.

The EU is hoping to deploy a force of at least 200 troops in Macedonia by as early as March.

The EU also plans to send a much larger peacekeeping force to relieve Nato soldiers in Bosnia early next year.

Nato element

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski made the formal invitation over the weekend.

"The EU should be ready to take over in March and we'll do every single step required in full co-operation with Nato and the Government of Macedonia," said Christina Gallach, a spokeswoman for Mr Solana.

However, Macedonia's Nato ambassador Nano Ruzin told Macedonian radio that because of technical problems the deployment would be delayed at least until April.

Ms Gallach said the EU force, the first under its new Common Foreign and Security Policy, would still have a Nato element.

It would be led by the alliance's deputy commander in Europe, Vice-Admiral Rainer Feist and would have its headquarters at the Nato military base at Mons, Belgium.

See also:

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