Prague, 19 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO today received an official request from Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski for a new mission after the completion of "Operation Essential Harvest" on 26 September.
NATO's current mission, comprised of 4,500 soldiers, is aimed at collecting an arsenal of 3,300 weapons from ethnic-Albanian militants.
In exchange, a Western-brokered peace plan calls for the Macedonian parliament to approve some 30 constitutional amendments that give greater political and language rights to ethnic Albanian citizens. Macedonia's police forces also are to include more ethnic Albanian officers.
Mark Laity, NATO's spokesman in Skopje, told RFE/RL today: "[Macedonia] sent a letter to NATO this morning in which they said, in effect, that they wanted [and] they were prepared to support a light NATO presence in the country after 'Operation Essential Harvest,' [in order] to provide additional contributions to the security of monitors. And they've asked whether NATO would accept such a mission. The North Atlantic Council is discussing it now."
Laity also confirmed that ethnic-Albanian militants have agreed to start tomorrow with the third and final phase of handing over their weapons to NATO. That development comes despite the fact that the Macedonian parliament has not yet met its promises in the multiphase peace process.
"With the [end of the 'Operation Essential Harvest'] 30-day mandate coming up, we've obviously discussed with them when they are prepared to start handing in weapons [in the final phase of the operation]. And they've indicated that there will be a weapons collection tomorrow. Thus far, the statements they've made about when and where they will hand over weapons, they've lived up to. So obviously, we are pleased. The voluntary collection of weapons is an important step in the overall process of ending the crisis in Macedonia. And the fact that they are now prepared to move into the third and final stage is obviously very encouraging for us because it means we'll get our job done on time and get home."
NATO ambassadors are widely expected to approve Trajkovski's request for a new NATO mission to follow the decommissioning operation. What remains to be determined is the exact size of the new NATO task force, the length of its mandate and the specific powers the troops will have.
Yves Brodeur, a spokesman for NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, says those details will be resolved through a series of meetings between alliance officials, authorities in Skopje and, in particular, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union -- both of which will send monitoring teams to Macedonia.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Brodeur said NATO's North Atlantic Council instructed the alliance's military planners today to explore the possible options for NATO troops.
BRODEUR: "Just before the [North Atlantic] Council started this morning at 10:15, we received a letter from [Macedonian] President [Boris] Trajkovski."
RFE/RL: Did the North Atlantic Council discuss it today, and was anything resolved?
BRODEUR: "Well, simply, the NATO council took note of that letter, which actually essentially expresses gratitude to the alliance for its effort in finding a way out of the current crisis, but also, the letter says essentially that the Republic of Macedonia is prepared to support a light NATO presence in the country. And that is, of course, in the context of a monitoring mission and is asking if NATO would be prepared to accept such a mission. The council this morning took [note] of this letter, because as I said, it just came through as we were about to start [our weekly North Atlantic Council] meeting. What will happen now -- the council has instructed the military planners to start looking at options, or concepts of operations, as to what exactly we can possibly do in response to that request."
RFE/RL: So will there be consultations with Skopje on that?
BRODEUR: "There must be consultations with Skopje. And not only with Skopje, but also with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union because, again, this NATO presence would take place in the context of a monitoring mission. In other words, whatever we do will be tailored to the needs of such a monitoring mission."
RFE/RL: Any idea on the size of the NATO mission?
BRODEUR: "No, really, again, we have to see first of all what are the requirements of the monitors. So the first order of business will be to get a specific idea of how big that monitoring mission will be, and then to adjust according to the size of that mission."
RFE/RL: It's been suggested by Macedonian authorities that about 200 NATO troops should be involved on the ground in crisis areas to protect the monitors. How many troops do you estimate would be needed for the support and logistics of such a mission?
BRODEUR: "That's a question for a military expert, which I am not. So I hesitate to give you any number because I don't think that would make much sense."
RFE/RL: There have been reports quoting Western diplomats that the mission could be as large as 1,000 troops in total. Can you make any comment on that?
BRODEUR: "Number games. I mean, I'm not going to start imagining how many there could be. What I'm saying is that we will tailor this mission in accordance with the needs expressed by the monitors and others -- in other words, to guarantee the safety of the monitors. So we will see how big this mission is based on that, and then we will take the appropriate measures."