Skopje, 27 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A British soldier taking part in NATO's mission to collect arms from ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia was killed yesterday evening. British Major Neal Peckham said today the soldier was traveling to Macedonia's capital, Skopje, when a crowd of youths threw an object into his car.
The soldier was taken first taken to the U.S. Army's hospital at Camp Bondsteel in neighboring Kosovo, but was transported back to Skopje University Hospital, where died. The soldier's name has been withheld.
NATO says its troops will today start collecting thousands of weapons and ammunition from ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia.
The mission commander, Major General Gunnar Lange, said NATO hopes to collect and destroy 3,300 weapons held by the rebels, including two tanks, two armored personnel carriers, 130 mortars, and nearly 3,000 assault rifles. Small arms, hand grenades, and ammunition are also expected to be turned over by the rebels.
Lange rejected charges from some Macedonian government officials that this quantity of weapons is cosmetic and would not represent any real rebel disarmament.
"They're (ethnic Albanian rebels) turning in 3,300 weapons, plus an additional serious amount of other deadly armaments. It is not just a gesture."
Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski described the NATO arms-collection goal as ridiculous and humiliating for Macedonia. The government has said the rebels could be holding tens of thousands of arms.
The start of the NATO operation comes amid continuing high tensions. Two Macedonians were killed in an explosion yesterday at a motel near the northwestern city of Tetovo. Later, an exchange of fire was reported between rebels and government forces, also near Tetovo. And an apparent bomb shook a neighborhood of the capital Skopje. No injuries were reported.