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Macedonia: NATO Experts To Finalize Disarmament Plan

Skopje, 14 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO military experts travel to Macedonia's capital Skopje today to finalize a plan for disarming ethnic Albanian rebels. NATO is preparing to deploy a 3,500-man force to Macedonia on a 30-day mission to collect and destroy the weapons.

Yesterday, leaders of the country's political parties signed a peace plan aimed at ending a six-month rebel insurgency by improving the rights of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority.

The rebels say they support the peace deal, even though they were not at the negotiating table. They have made no pledges to disarm.

Government forces and rebels clashed near Tetovo and near the border with Kosovo hours after the deal was signed.

A lasting cease-fire and an agreement by the rebels to disarm are the main conditions for deployment of the NATO troops.

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said there were hopes of brokering a sustainable cease-fire "in the next few days."

Robertson said a sustainable cease-fire must be in place before NATO troops could be sent. He declined to estimate when the deployment could begin.

Late last night, Robertson met NATO ambassadors in Brussels and briefed them on the peace plan and his talks with Macedonian leaders.

NATO officials say Robertson wanted to make sure the ambassadors have all the information they need to be able to act quickly on the disarmament mission and give them plenty of time to contact their capitals with the details.

The United Nations Security Council has welcomed the signing of a peace agreement by Macedonia's political parties and urged that it be carried out immediately.

The council late yesterday (13 August) issued a statement that supported the Macedonian government's efforts to resolve the dispute with its ethnic Albanian minority.

The council also urged ethnic Albanian leaders to publicly renounce violence and its statement repeatedly condemned the actions of what it called "extremist groups." The statement called on all parties to respect the cease-fire to allow the framework agreement to take hold.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a separate statement, said he hopes the agreement will prove to be the basis for a stable political settlement and restore calm. He said the use of violence by any party to seek further political gains or undermine the agreement would be unacceptable.