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Macedonia Church Attack Not Expected to Delay NATO Troop Decision


The United States is condemning the destruction, allegedly by ethnic-Albanian extremists, of a historic Orthodox church in Macedonia. But U.S. officials do not expect the church attack and other scattered acts of violence to delay a final NATO decision, likely to be made Wednesday, to send an allied disarmament force to the Balkans country.

Officials here say the Macedonian cease-fire is generally holding despite what the State Department describes as "limited" incidents of violence. And they are predicting the early dispatch of the NATO force to which the United States will provide logistical support.

On the eve on an expected Wednesday decision by the North Atlantic Council to deploy the full 3,500 member force, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker urged the Macedonian government and ethnic-Albanian guerrillas to adhere to the cease-fire that accompanied their political agreement last week.

He singled out for harsh criticism an attack early Tuesday on one of the country's most-revered Orthodox Christian sites, that the government has attributed to Albanian extremists. "We deplore categorically last night's destruction of the Orthodox monastery at Lesok and condemn all acts of destruction of cultural and religious sites," he said. "The perpetrators of this disgraceful act should be ashamed of themselves. This is an ancient monastery. There's no place in this world for this type of destruction."

The monastery attack, for which the rebels deny responsibility, was also criticized by NATO Secretary-General George Robertson, who urged Macedonians to resist any calls for retaliation.

The United States and European Union mediated the August 13 political accord, by mainstream Macedonian and ethnic-Albanian leaders, which is aimed at ending the conflict that erupted early this year.

Under the plan, ethnic-Albanian guerrillas are to surrender their weapons to NATO troops deployed in Macedonia for 30 days, during which time the parliament is to approve reforms intended to improve the status of the Albanian minority.

Administration officials have said the U.S. military will not play a direct role in the disarmament operation, but will provide services such as medical support, helicopter transport, and aerial monitoring with drone aircraft.

A British-led advance team of 400 NATO personnel troops arrived in Macedonia late last week, and allied officials say the main body of troops could begin moving within 48 hours of the order by the NATO council.