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More NATO Troops Arrive in Macedonia - 2001-08-24

More NATO troops arrived in Macedonia Friday, and still more are on the way. The NATO forces will soon start collecting weapons from ethnic-Albanian guerrillas.

NATO says alliance troops will begin taking away weapons from ethnic-Albanian insurgents on Monday. That is earlier than expected, and has required NATO to call for additional troops. The total force is now expected to be around 4,500 soldiers. Of these, 1,300 are already in place and 700 more are expected to arrive by the end of Friday. They are coming in convoys from Greece and flying in from Britain, France, Italy and Holland.

Between now and Monday, British advance teams continue to spread out across Macedonia to assess conditions in preparation for the disarmament operation. Major Doug Mackay says NATO is talking to both sides involved in the fighting, the Macedonians and the rebels, known as the National Liberation Army, or NLA. "Over the last week, Task Force Harvest has deployed a number of liaison teams to both the Macedonian armed forces and the so-called NLA," he said. "This is in order to provide a clear and complete information picture for all commanders."

So far, Major Mackay says, the troops have been off to a good start. "They have been warmly welcomed by both sides," he said, "and their success has been shown in the reduction in the number of cease-fire violations over the last few days."

The work of the liaison teams has also helped to establish how many weapons and of what types the NLA possesses.

The mission commander, Major General Gunnar Lange of Denmark, said the international force has now agreed on a total number of arms to be collected voluntarily from the guerrillas. The details remain secret, pending approval by the Macedonian government.

General Lange also announced NATO will set up collection points near the northern Macedonian cities of Tetovo and Kumanovo, and also near the western town of Debar, near the border with Albania. No battles have taken place near Debar during the six-month conflict, but NATO officials say there are rebel units there that have agreed to surrender.