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NATO Disarmament in Macedonia to Begin Monday - 2001-08-26


NATO says it will begin its disarmament operation Monday in Macedonia, despite a lingering dispute with the government over the number of weapons to be collected. But, new violence erupted when an explosion killed two Macedonians in a bomb attack near Tetovo.

NATO has still not agreed with the Macedonian government on the number of weapons to be collected from ethnic-Albanian guerrillas. Alliance spokesman Major Barry Johnson says NATO is not negotiating with the government, but has been in talks since Friday to explain the disarmament plan.

Government figures on the size of the guerrillas' arsenal have been several times that of reported NATO estimates. Major Johnson said one reason for the wide gap is that alliance planners have counted ammunition such as mortar shells separately.

The 5,000-member force hopes to collect about a third of the arms by the end of the week, before the first parliamentary session to begin ratifying the peace plan drawn up earlier this month.

The British magazine Jane's Defense Weekly reports a study of its experts shows the ethnic-Albanian guerrillas have about 8,700 weapons. Their arsenal reportedly includes 8,000 assault rifles, 250 heavy machine guns, 200 sniper rifles, up to 200 mortars and 50 shoulder-launched rockets, including advanced ground to air missiles known as stingers.

Both Macedonian security forces and the rebels have agreed to pull back from sensitive areas to allow NATO troops to set up one-day weapons collection points. The government has also agreed not to fly military planes or helicopters over a large swath of northern Macedonia.

In the most serious violent incident in five days, two Macedonians were killed when a bomb destroyed a hotel 10 kilometers south of Tetovo. The government blamed the attack on what it called "ethnic-Albanian terrorists."

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