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NATO Nervous About New Macedonian Mission

NATO says it will not go ahead with a mission in Macedonia to disarm ethnic Albanian guerrillas if a ceasefire is not respected. An advance team of several hundred troops has already arrived in the Balkan country despite recent skirmishes between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and government forces.

A NATO official in Skopje says the planned 30 day disarmament mission depends on a ceasefire being observed in good faith by both sides in the conflict. He said the killing of an elderly ethnic Albanian man and a Macedonian policeman Friday are unacceptable violations of the truce.

Guerrillas fired rocket-propelled grenades at a police station near the front line city of Tetovo overnight, but no casualties were reported.

The stability of the ceasefire is key to a final NATO decision to deploy a planned force of 3,500 troops to collect weapons from the rebels known as the National Liberation Army. NATO has said its mission is not to keep peace between the two sides, but only to quickly disarm the rebels once a truce takes hold. The troops, made up of British, French, and Czech units,bwill then leave Macedonia after one month.

NATO's supreme commander, American General Joseph Ralston, is due in Macedonia Monday as part of the alliance's assessment of security conditions in the country. NATO says it will make a final decision on the weapons collection mission next week

British transport planes brought in the first groups of an advance team Friday to lay the groundwork for the full disarmament force if the weapons mission goes ahead.

Macedonian nationalists blocked the principal border crossing to Kosovo Saturday, cutting off a main supply route of NATO peacekeepers in the province. The protesters say that a peace deal signed Monday by political leaders threatens to split the country along ethnic lines and rewards six months of violence by ethnic Albanian rebels.