Succeeding NATO In Macedonia

Soldiers of British 16 Air Assault regiment pass a helicopter upon arrival at the Skopje airport, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2001. NATO is expected to soon begin Operation Essential Harvest, a mission of collecting volunteered weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia.
The European Union nations have agreed that a multinational force to protect civilian peace observers must be sent to Macedonia this month after NATO troops finish collecting arms from ethnic Albanian rebels.

The new force would be smaller than the 4,500 NATO troops now in Macedonia, would again be led by the 19-nation western alliance and be open to Russian, Ukrainian and other non-NATO troops, according to a German plan that won support at a weekend meeting of EU foreign ministers.

Difficult details still must be worked out.

Some nations insisted a successor force to the one-month NATO mission be given a U.N. Security Council mandate. Britain opposed that most strongly, while others said there was not enough time to get such a mandate.

Additionally, the government of Macedonia opposes a further military intervention. The job of getting President Boris Trajkovski to endorse the EU plan fell to Javier Solana, the union's foreign and security policy chief, who had his first contacts on the issue with the government in Skopje on Sunday night.

NATO deployed troops to Macedonia last month to collect weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels as part of a political agreement signed by all the major parties in Macedonia. NATO's “Operation Essential Harvest” is to end Sept. 26. The alliance has said it would not extended that deadline.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told his EU colleagues “we must avoid a vacuum” that could lead to another outbreak of fighting.

France had wanted to use units of the EU's own rapid reaction force, still in its early stage. That force would eventually total 60,000 troops, but won't be available for missions for several more months.

The EU nations agreed that any future military presence must be robust, limited in time and must not act as a dividing line between Macedonia's ethnic communities.

The three principal challenges Macedonia now faces, according to the German plan, are a security vacuum after the NATO mission, the rise of a “silent coalition of extremists on both sides opposed to reconciliation” and risk of an ethnic division of the country.

Any new military mission should be complimentary to further EU economic aid — $14.7 million in the short term for infrastructure projects and $227.5 million in midterm and long-term aid, EU officials said.

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