Brussels, 17 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO's ruling council has postponed a decision on when to send a special force to Macedonia to disarm ethnic Albanian guerrillas. News agencies quote diplomats as saying a special session of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels today agreed to wait for a military assessment from an advance force which goes to Macedonia this weekend.
The advance unit includes some 400 British and 120 Czech troops. Small contingents of both units arrived in Skopje today.
The first 16 Czech paratroopers arrived today. The troops will assist British forces in assessing the situation for the deployment of a 3,500-member force in Macedonia. The remaining Czech troops are expected to arrive tomorrow.
British Brigadier Barney White-Spunner, leading the British advance unit, said his troops will assess whether conditions are right for NATO to begin a weapons collection operation:
"What we are doing is going to see if the conditions are right so that we can advise NATO on whether to deploy this force to run the weapon collections operation. And I stress that. We are going to go and see whether the conditions are right."
NATO has agreed it will not deploy a main force unless there is a secure cease-fire. The weapons are to be surrendered voluntarily by ethnic Albanian guerillas according to the peace agreement signed in Skopje on 13 August.
The Macedonian Defense Ministry says sporadic clashes between ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian security forces were reported overnight in three places.
A report from Geneva today says the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has drawn up plans to help people uprooted by the conflict in Macedonia return home as soon as it is safe to do so. Kris Janowski, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said the plans include emergency housing repairs and providing identity documents, as well as promoting dialogue between ethnic communities.
Albania's Foreign Ministry said today that it will allow international monitors to police its borders for any arms smuggling to neighboring Macedonia. The ministry rejected Macedonian accusations that Tirana has supported ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Macedonia and reiterated that it is committed to its neighbor's territorial integrity and stability.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder today appealed to the country's opposition parties to support Germany's plan to contribute 500 troops to NATO's mission to collect weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia. Parliamentary approval, necessary under the German Constitution, is threatened because some members of Schroeder's own government coalition say they will not support the proposal.