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NATO Weapons Collection 'A Success' in Macedonia - 2001-08-27

NATO is calling its first day collecting weapons from ethnic-Albanian rebels in Macedonia a success. But, questions about the mission linger after the overnight killing of a British soldier.

NATO says its soldiers collected more than 400 weapons from ethnic-Albanian rebels in the first day of Operation Essential Harvest.

NATO spokesman Major Alex Dick said the handover took place in a village near the northern city of Kumanovo. "My brigadier is happy that that is a good figure for our first weapons collections task," Major Dick said.

The spokesman said alliance troops will carefully catalogue each weapon, before taking them to a military base in southern Macedonia to be destroyed.

"They were sorted, they were checked for safety and they were laid out in their different weapons types," he said. " As we speak, the engineers are completing their task of bagging, tagging and boxing the weapons."

Monday's operation went ahead despite the killing of a British soldier overnight. Ian Collins, 20, was a member of the 9th parachute squadron of the Royal Engineers. He was driving in a jeep from a military base at the airport toward the capital Skopje when his vehicle was attacked by a group of youths.

A spokesman for hardline Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski criticized NATO's response to the incident. He said NATO authorities hindered a criminal investigation into the attack by not reporting it on time and by removing the vehicle from the scene before government investigators could arrive.

In London, British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon called the attack mindless and demanded a full investigation by Macedonian authorities. NATO Secretary General George Robertson said the killing would not be allowed to derail the disarmament mission.

Despite the dangers for NATO forces in Macedonia, the German parliament appears set to approve a deployment of 500 soldiers on Wednesday. German participation in the mission had been in doubt for weeks after some members of Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder's party said they would not back the move.

Many Macedonians are opposed to the NATO mission, particularly after the government has said the alliance's goal of collecting 3,300 weapons is far too low. About 1,100 weapons need to be collected by Friday, when the parliament meets to consider ratification of a peace agreement signed earlier this month.