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Macedonia: NATO Force Deploys As Commander Ralston Arrives

Skopje, 20 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO troops continue to arrive in Macedonia's capital Skopje today, but alliance officials have yet to decide whether to engage in a British-led mission to collect arms from ethnic Albanian rebels. Several hundred advance troops have arrived in Macedonia since 17 August in advance of a proposed force of 3,500. NATO's supreme commander in Europe, U.S. General Joseph Ralston, arrived in Macedonia today and is conferring with senior NATO officers to assess whether the alliance should go ahead and collect weapons from the rebels. Ralston is expected to give his assessment to the NATO Council in Brussels tomorrow.

NATO's spokesman in Macedonia, Major Barry Johnson, says that the decision rests on whether NATO concludes that a cease-fire is holding.

Johnson said that NATO regards statements made by leaders of the rebel fighters -- who call themselves the National Liberation Army (UCK) -- indicating that they will cooperate to be helpful. Ali Ahmeti, the UCK political leader, said earlier that the UCK's fighters will voluntarily surrender their weapons. But reports from Macedonia say other rebel leaders have indicated they will continue to fight.

Macedonia said today it would keep its aircraft and helicopters away from the war zone, as requested by NATO. NATO described this as a confidence-building measure to encourage the guerrillas to hand over their weapons.

For more on the situation in Macedonia, please see Macedonia: NATO Commander Assesses Preconditions For Deployment.