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Macedonia: Britain Vows To Stay Out Of Any Fighting

London, 16 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Britain's Armed Forces Minister says British troops are going to Macedonia to only help implement a peace deal. He said they will not get involved in fighting between ethnic Albanian rebels and government forces. An advance team of some 400 British troops could arrive in Macedonia by the end of this week. They will pave the way for a 3,500-strong NATO force which will disarm the rebels.

Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram said today that the British troops are expecting to operate in a "benign environment," otherwise the whole mission will have to be reconsidered.

He said the troops are going to Macedonia to collect weapons. He said they are not going to "work a green line between the two sides, not to peace-make or to peacekeep and not to pursue one group against another."

He said the troops will not get involved if there is any fighting between the two sides because "that's not the rules of engagement."

Yesterday, NATO ambassadors approved sending the advance contingent of troops.

The British soldiers will be sent to set up the headquarters and communications for the larger force.

The ambassadors did not make a decision on deploying the full force. They are expected to discuss the issue tomorrow or early next week.

NATO says the full force will not be deployed until it is convinced that a cease-fire between Macedonians and ethnic Albanian rebels is holding.

NATO troops will have 30 days to disarm the rebels once the full force is deployed.

Earlier yesterday, Macedonia formally approved the deployment of the troops to oversee the disarmament. Macedonia also made a formal offer to pardon the rebels if they surrender their arms. But it said those who had committed serious crimes will not be pardoned.