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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Nato troops heading for Macedonia
British soldiers
British troops will arrive ahead of a Nato force
Up to 400 British troops will be deployed in Macedonia to prepare the ground for a larger Nato force to disarm ethnic Albanian rebels.

A Nato spokesman said no government had voiced objections to the plan before a Wednesday afternoon deadline and therefore the deployment of the advance team could go ahead.

The advance team could arrive in Macedonia by the weekend to set up headquarters and communications for the 3,500-strong force expected to follow, Nato officials said.

The full force will be charged with collecting an estimated 3,000 weapons from guerrillas in the volatile Balkan state.

Peace accord's key points
Amends constitution to include all ethnic groups, not only Macedonians
Makes Albanian second official language in some areas
More ethnic Albanians in police and other institutions
Allows degree of self-rule in Albanian-dominated areas
Census to be held to establish country's exact ethnic mix ahead of elections
Ethnic Albanian rebels have waged a six-month insurgency against Macedonia government forces.

The two sides called a ceasefire this week.

If it holds, the advance group will give the go-ahead for the rest of the disarmament force to be sent in.

The advance party will talk to individuals involved in this week's truce and carry out other reconnaissance work.

They will then make recommendations to Nato over whether it would be safe to deploy the full force and exactly what type of equipment would be needed.

A British official said: "We recognise there are risks.

"There is a real risk that the parties on the ground do not have the same aspirations as Nato."


We recognise there are risks

British spokesman
He said the Macedonian mission, codenamed Operation Essential Harvest, would be limited purely to weapons collection, and would last for 30 days, after which Nato planned to withdraw.

"If it does go pear-shaped, then this force will have to terminate," he said.

"If Nato decides on a force with a military role, then it would be potentially bigger, would need a new mandate and new preparations."

Deployment prerequisites

The rebels have agreed to hand over their weapons, one of the prerequisites for Nato's deployment.

But the other main pre-condition for Operation Essential Harvest, a durable ceasefire, looked less concrete.

Nato officials said rebel commanders of the National Liberation Army (NLA) had signed a letter of intent to disarm. They also indicated how many weapons they intend to give in - about 2,000.

Nato has signalled that it is not prepared to engage in another long-term operation in the Balkans.

Allies have stressed they do not envisage a peacekeeping or community protection role, but need to act quickly to bolster the prospects of peace between Muslim and Slav communities.

The parliament wants to see the rebels disarm before it debates political reforms, due to be voted on within 45 days.


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See also:

06 Aug 01 | Europe
Nato ready for Macedonia action
20 Mar 01 | Europe
The military balance
27 Mar 01 | UK Politics
UK troops to boost Macedonian security
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