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Tensions Remain as Nato's Weapons Collecting Mission Continues - 2001-09-12

NATO's 30 day mission in Macedonia to collect 3,300 weapons voluntarily being handed over by ethnic Albanian insurgents is half over. While the NATO mission is on track, tensions remain between minority Albanians and majority Macedonians.

Police at roadblocks check all vehicles entering this predominantly Albanian town not far from Skopje. Two months ago Aracinovo was occupied by over 100 Albanian insurgents. They were subsequently escorted out of the town to safety by American soldiers, an action which infuriated the Macedonians. The town itself is badly damaged from the shelling it endured from the Macedonian army.

On Wednesday NATO troops from Italy established a new weapons collection facility a few kilometers north of Aracinovo. NATO spokesmen say they are encouraged by the initial results.

But there are tensions between NATO soldiers and Macedonian police and paramilitaries near weapons collection points close to Tetovo in the west. NATO spokesman Mark Laity reminds the Macedonians that they agreed in writing to retreat from the vicinity of collection points if asked to do so by NATO.

"These are restrictions agreed by the government of Macedonia to assure that our joint endeavor succeeds," said Mr. Laity. "But it is inevitable that in a complex, difficult operation that some issues will arise."

With the cease-fire generally holding and the weapons collection on track, the pace of constitutional change and extending the NATO withdrawal deadline are major issues. The Macedonians say they will agree to NATO staying on past the end of September if it becomes part of a United Nations force. Russia has also come out in favor of a broadened U.N.-led military presence in Macedonia.