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Macedonia: Officials Agree On Amnesty, NATO Force

Skopje, 15 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Macedonian government formally offered ethnic Albanian rebels an amnesty today if they fulfil their promise to surrender their arms. But a statement from President Boris Trajkovski's office said that rebels who refuse to hand over their weapons or had committed serious crimes which could be prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia will not be pardoned.

Macedonia today also formally approved deployment of 3,500 NATO troops on its soil to oversee the disarmament of ethnic Albanian rebels.

Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva made the announcement at a press conference in Skopje.

Alliance officials say the Council has set a 1700 deadline today for any of NATO's 19 member governments to object to the plan, after which the council will formally vote.

NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur said NATO is now considering deployment of the headquarters and some other elements of the NATO mission, which has been code-named "Operation Essential Harvest."

"In order to build up on the movement that was created [by the signing of the political accord], the North Atlantic Council is now considering deployment of Task Force Harvest headquarters, some communications assets, and other elements."

Yesterday, the main rebel force in Macedonia, the National Liberation Army, agreed to lay down their arms.

That was a NATO prerequisite for sending in its troops. NATO also wants a cease-fire in place in Macedonia, as Danish General Gunnar Lange said.

"The conditions on the ground must also be right before any [NATO] deployment can occur. The cease-fire must be respected. Our soldiers will not come here to enforce a peace. They will only come if the environment allows them to conduct the very specific mission of collecting weapons and ammunition that are voluntarily turned in by the so-called NLA [UCK]."

Reports say some 400 troops would initially be sent to Macedonia. The British Defense Ministry said today it is ready to send some 350 troops by the weekend if the deployment is approved.

In Skopje, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski today formally asked parliament to open a session to debate expanding ethnic Albanian rights as called for in the signed political accord.