NATO's Secretary General George Robertson arrived in Skopje, Tuesday one day before NATO's Operation Essential Harvest ends. The British-led force of nearly 5,000 troops is now expected to be replaced by a smaller international force of about 600 soldiers under German command.
Mr. Robertson described the NATO force as "lean but effective" and says its purpose is to protect unarmed international monitors who are now in Macedonia to oversee the truce accord between Macedonians and ethnic-Albanians.
Analysts say the two sides in the conflict have widely different expectations of the new mission. On one hand, Macedonians want NATO backing for the re-entry of government security forces into rebel-held areas. On the other, ethnic Albanians see the force as their guarantee against retaliation by the police and army after six months of often fierce fighting.
In addition to the new German-led mission, code-named Amber Fox, NATO will keep more than 2,000 troops in Macedonia as part of NATO's peacekeeping operation in Kosovo. Those troops have frequently played dual roles in recent months, working both to bring peace to Macedonia and supply their national contingents in Kosovo.
During his one day visit to Macedonia, Secretary General Robertson is expected to ask government leaders to give priority to granting amnesty to rebel fighters. The amnesty was part of the agreement between the two sides, but the Macedonian parliament has yet to enact one, more than a month after the agreement was signed. Angered by the delay, ethnic-Albanian lawmakers say they have now begun drafting an amnesty law themselves.
The parliament completed the second phase of approving a package of constitutional changes on Monday as part of the peace agreement. Final ratification, however, will require a two-thirds majority for the accord following a period of public debate.
Hard-line lawmakers opposed to the deal are trying to sink the accord by saying they want to put it to a referendum. Public support for the peace plan is unclear, but preparations for a referendum would create a new period of insecurity by putting the peace accord on hold for months.