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NATO Weapons Collection Continues in Macedonia - 2001-08-28

NATO's disarmament mission in Macedonia is in its second day, with weapons being collected in the hills above Tetovo in northwestern Macedonia. Wednesday, NATO's secretary-general will visit Macedonia and plans to go to the site where the weapons that have been collected will be destroyed.

Ethnic-Albanian rebels surrendered three anti-aircraft missiles to NATO troops, the first heavy arms to be handed over by the guerrillas. In the remote village of Brodec, eight kilometers north of Tetovo, hundreds of rebels lined up one by one throughout the day to turn over their weapons to British paratroopers.

A spokesman for "Operation Essential Harvest" said NATO Secretary General George Robertson would visit Macedonia Wednesday. Mr. Robertson is set to travel to the Krivolak military base in the south of the country, where weapons taken from the rebels will be destroyed.

A planned contingent of 500 German troops may soon be on its way to Macedonia, pending parliamentary approval in Berlin. A NATO spokesman in Skopje said that if the deployment is approved by the German parliament Wednesday, the first column of German tanks and armored personnel carriers will immediately move into Macedonia from the southern Kosovo town of Prizren.

Since Germany's opposition Christian Democrats ended their resistance to sending German forces, parliamentary approval of the deployment to Macedonia is now considered likely.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Kosovo, NATO peacekeepers arrested 35 people for illegally crossing the border from Macedonia to Kosovo, adding to a total of about 200 detained over the past week. Most are suspected of being ethnic-Albanian rebels who are leaving Macedonia after surrendering their weapons.

The U.N. refugee agency says up to 30,000 refugees have now returned to Macedonia. But agency officials say they fear the refugees have gotten a false sense of security because of the NATO disarmament mission and may be returning prematurely, before the areas they left are really safe.