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Friday, 24 August, 2001, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
BBC's Jeremy Bowen quizzed in Macedonia
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Up to 700 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment have flown out to join an advanced party of 400 after Nato chiefs approved a mission to disarm Albanian rebels in Macedonia.
The soldiers will lead a 3,500-strong international force gathering arms surrendered by the rebel Albanian National Liberation Army under a peace deal brokered last week.
Nato Secretary General Lord Robertson has admitted that there are risks involved in the action but said: "We are taking an historic step forward to provide stability and security in the whole Balkans region."
Weapons collected under the operation called "Essential Harvest" could start early next week and should be completed by the end of next month.
What do you think of Nato's proposals? Will the move to disarm the Albanian rebels succeed? Or do you feel that British troops should not be taking part in such a mission?
Our correspondent Jeremy Bowen is in Macedonia and answered your questions in a live forum.
Highlights of the interview
Now it could be that the reality is a bit more complicated than that. It will be difficult for Nato to leave if things start going wrong in terms of a deterioration into violence. It will be hard for them to leave if, at the end of this 30 days, the whole political process that goes with the process of weapons collection isn't well under control and happening. Because let's not forget, this isn't just about collecting weapons, it's also about the Macedonian government giving some substantial political rights to the Albanian minority in this country and they way they are going to do that is by changing the constitution. The idea is that that happens in tandem with the collection of the weapons - now if those votes don't start going the way of reform in the Macedonian parliament when that is due to happen, then it's a good chance that the weapons collection programme will not work. But what this is all about really is building trust and so they hope that by collecting weapons, by changing the law in this country to give Albanians more of a say, then they will create a climate for peace.
There is a question of Britain's overstretch though. The fact is that Britain has been very eager - in fact it has been at the forefront of involvement in the Balkans and in other conflicts as well - like Sierra Leone - in the last years. And Britain, despite the fact that it has the fourth largest in the world, has a lot of problems of its own and many people argue that our money is better spent on things other than the Army. I think that the way that the Government sees it though is that Britain has a responsibility to take part in international security measures. Britain has, by European standards, pretty flexible armed forces who can deploy very quickly - a lot of money has been spent on getting that capability - and so the idea is that Britain uses this.
I think there is something else going on as well which is first of all the relationship with the United States. A lot of Americans criticise Europeans for not doing enough for their own security. Now I think that the hope in Britain and in Paris and in Brussels and a few other places too, is that Nato can do more if the Europeans do more in operations like this and that will do something to stave American criticism that we rely too much on their fire power.
There is also the European dimension. The British are rather reluctant Europeans for all kinds of domestic and political reasons. Britain is unwilling at the moment to take part in the European single currency. I think Tony Blair wants to show his European partners that there is something else that he can do and this is one thing that Britain can do to be a responsible European is to try to use its very capable armed forces to good order. Some people are critical of it of course - they say Britons are becoming the Prussians of Europe - I think that is a bit overstretched at the moment though.
In no sense is Kosovo a multi-ethnic society. There are Serbs who live there under Nato protection - not very many of them - and there are a lot of Kosovar Albanians who, quite frankly, would be very happy to see the Serbs go. There are some Kosovar Albanians who do genuinely want to have a multi-ethnic society but I think they are in the minority.
Nato went into Kosovo for all kinds of reasons too numerous to mention. I think that one reason why the Nato governments decided to do what they did and Britain, again, at the forefront of all this, was actually what had happened in the previous few years. I think they thought that Slobodan Milosevic - the then President of former Federal Yugoslavia - had made a fool of them over the years and they thought this time he is not going to get away with it. I think they were also sick of the sight of ethnic cleansing in Europe and they had a real problem in so far as after the bombing started, there was a massive deportation, forced exodus of Kosovar Albanians and they had to do something about it.
The problem with the Kosovo business was they went into it without really a serious political objective. Now if they went into it saying, as you suggest, that they were going to have a multi-ethnic society at least that would have been a political objective. I don't think they had that political objective - I think they made policy very much on the hoof and at the moment they are suffering the hangover from that, which is that Nato troops will be in Kosovo for years and will effectively be running the place as a sort of imperial province - of which empire I am not sure. The thing is they have to decide what they want to do with Kosovo - does it return to Serbia - to what is left of Yugoslavia? Or does it become an independent state? At the moment it is in a limbo.
I think the ceasefire at the moment is pretty much being respected by both sides - having said that - they are both there in their positions but Nato said it wouldn't move in unless the ceasefire was respected and now that is what's happening.
It would be massively destabilising in this part of south east Europe for a war here to break out, apart from the fact that war is in itself undesirable. There are people in Nato who believe that it is better to try and come in at the beginning and try and stop it happening than come in at the end and try and pick up the pieces which is what happened in Bosnia and in Kosovo.
23 Aug 01 | Europe
Macedonia mission gathers pace
23 Aug 01 | UK
British troops land in Macedonia
22 Aug 01 | Europe
Is Nato's mission impossible?
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