British military officials say a crowd of youths threw a piece of concrete that struck a NATO vehicle and killed a British soldier - the first casualty of NATO's mission in Macedonia. The attack is evidence of the danger peacekeepers face in Macedonia.
Military officials said the British soldier was riding in an armored vehicle when he was hit by an object thrown by a crowd of angry youths late Sunday on a road near Skopje's airport.
The seriously injured soldier was rushed to the United States Army's base in Macedonia, Camp Able Sentry, and than transported to the U.S. hospital in neighboring Kosovo. He was later transferred back to Skopje's University Hospital where he died despite what NATO officials described as "the best efforts of all involved."
Despite its first casualty in Macedonia, an alliance spokesman was quick to point out that NATO would press ahead with its Operation Essential Harvest to collect weapons from ethnic-Albanian insurgents.
The slaying underscored the hostile environment in which the peacekeepers will have to operate. In addition to the attack, there were reports about anti-NATO protestors blocking key roads.
Many Macedonians appear to blame the alliance for the country's six-month-old ethnic-Albanian insurgency by failing to completely cut off the weapons supply to the rebels, most of whom are believed to come from neighboring Kosovo.
In a further sign of ethnic tensions, a bomb exploded near the Albanian Embassy in Skopje late Sunday, after an earlier explosion rocked a hotel near Tetovo, killing two employees.
The peacekeeping mission is also confronted with criticism from Macedonian government leaders who have condemned NATO for its intention to collect about 3,300 weapons from the insurgents. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski described the figure as "laughable and humiliating for Macedonia", saying that the real figure should be close to 60,000-85,000 weapons and millions of rounds of ammunition.
The authoritative publication Janes' Defense Weekly said in a report Saturday that its intelligence sources estimate that the ethnic-Albanian rebels have many more weapons than NATO is willing to collect. The magazine reported that they include 8,000 assault rifles and 15,000 bolt action or semi-automatic rifles, as well as thousands of land mines, hand grenades, and even dozens of shoulder launched missile launchers.
Some analysts have warned it will be impossible to disarm the rebels within the 30-day period set by NATO, and there are fears that many weapons will be buried in the mountains for possible future use. NATO peace mission commander, Major General Gunnar Lange, has acknowledged that the operation is delicate. But he stressed the only alternative is all out civil war.