SKOPJE, Aug 20 (NCA) -- NATO's top commander in Europe is due to arrive in Macedonia today to assess whether a cease-fire is durable enough to allow the deployment of thousands of NATO troops to collect weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels. Ahead of the arrival of General Joseph Ralston, there were reports late yesterday of a sustained exchange of fire between Macedonian government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels near the city of Tetovo. There was no word on any casualties.
An advance force of about 400 NATO soldiers moved into Macedonia over the weekend in preparation for a possible mission by some 3,500 NATO troops to collect weapons from the rebels. However, NATO officials have warned that any such larger mission depends on government troops and rebel forces adhering to a ceasefire, and on rebel forces voluntarily turning in their arms.
Ali Ahmeti, political chief of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army, yesterday pledged the rebels would surrender their arms. He said he believed the war was over following reforms agreed with the government to improve ethnic Albanian rights.