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Rebels say Macedonia battle over

Ali Ahmeti
Ahmeti: Time for reconciliation  


SKOPJE, Macedonia -- The leader of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian rebels has declared that his group has formally disbanded, just hours after NATO wrapped up "Operation Essential Harvest."

Rebel leader Ali Ahmeti told reporters attending a news conference in the rebel stronghold of Sipkovica on Thursday that he was dissolving the National Liberation Army and that it was time for ethnic reconciliation.

"Last night at midnight, the NLA formally disbanded and as of last night, all the former fighters became regular citizens."

Macedonian and ethnic Albanian leaders signed a peace deal on August 13, suspending six months of warfare between ethnic Albanian rebels and government forces.

Under the peace plan, a 4,500-strong NATO force collected weapons from the rebels the Macedonian-dominated parliament in return amended the country's constitution to grant broader rights for the minority.

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The rebels handed over the final batch of a total of 3,875 rifles, mortars, howitzers and a tank by the end of the day on Wednesday.

Spanish troops followed by British and Canadian units began pulling out of the country on Thursday.

The Macedonians, however, have not completed promised legal reforms, and have not pledged to grant amnesty to the rebels -- key action urged by NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson.

He said that without the success of Operation Essential Harvest "peace would not be within reach" in the Balkan country.

Robertson said: "The world is watching and the politicians know they have an obligation that they must fulfil. NATO has delivered -- it is now up to the parliamentarians to deliver again."

Meanwhile a new 1,000-strong NATO force to help provide security in still-tense Macedonia has been approved and will be deployed with "the speed of light" the alliance says.

An activation order for the new mission "Operation Amber Fox" was issued overnight at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

The operation will be German-led. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Cabinet on Thursday approved deploying about 700 soldiers to Macedonia, and parliament was to vote on the issue later in the day.

Greek soldiers
Greek soliders as part of NATO operation check weapons handed-in by rebels  

"Amber Fox" will be made up of the 700 arriving German soldiers plus 300 already in the country and will protect international peace monitors.

On Thursday 125 Spanish soldiers became the first of the "Essential Harvest" force to pull out.

More than 20 armoured personnel carriers transported the troops down the main highway leading from Skopje, the capital, to the border with Greece.

A group of British paratroopers was due to leave by air later in the day, along with Canadian units who had served in the 4,500-member mission.

Britain had the highest contingent in the country with 1,860 of the 4,500 troops. The U.N. Security Council unanimously ratified efforts to establish a follow-up mission.

A council resolution also called on Macedonia and ethnic Albanian insurgents to strictly observe a July 5 cease-fire, fully implement the peace deal they signed in August and reject "the use of violence in pursuit of political aims."

Robertson described the new mission as "an offer of assistance in response to President Boris Trajkovski's request to NATO to contribute to the protection of the international monitors who will oversee implementation of the peace plan in Macedonia."

Ethnic Albanians, who make up about one-third of Macedonia's two million population, have fought for better recognition of its language and an increased presence in parliament and the police force.



 
 
 
 


RELATED STORIES:
• Macedonia peace mission approved
September 26, 2001
• Harvest slow amid tension
September 20, 2001
• Macedonian plan enters final stage
September 19, 2001
• Macedonia peace votes delay
September 22, 2001
• Talks on new NATO Macedonia force
September 25, 2001

RELATED SITES:
• Macedonian Government
• National Liberation Army
• Operation Essential Harvest

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