NATO has denied reports that it plans to extend its 30-day mission to disarm ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Macedonia and says it plans to withdraw on schedule when that mission is over on September 26. NATO denies it is even considering remaining in the Balkan country past the deadline, but says it wants to continue being involved in the search for peace and stability there.
NATO has sent more than 4,500 troops to Macedonia to collect weapons surrendered by ethnic Albanian insurgents. The guerrillas are giving up their arms in exchange for reforms that would grant the ethnic Albanian minority in Macedonia more rights.
The insurgents have handed in more than 1,200 weapons out of a target of 3,300. But they say they will not surrender any more arms until Macedonia's Parliament votes to introduce the reforms. The debate within Parliament on whether or not to approve the reforms continues.
Diplomats in Macedonia fear that a withdrawal by NATO when its mission expires will create a security vacuum in the troubled country. But the alliance, which is already involved in two open-ended military operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, seems reluctant to stay in Macedonia.
Reports over the past few days have suggested that NATO could extend its mission there beyond September 26. But NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur, speaking to reporters at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, says that is not the case. "NATO is not, as we speak, considering a new mission or making plans for the extension of Operation Essential Harvest beyond the time planned for the mission," he said.
Mr. Brodeur said NATO has been second-guessed from the very beginning of its mission to Macedonia, with doubts expressed about its ability to deploy rapidly to the Balkan country and collect arms from the insurgents. He says the alliance has proven that it can accomplish the tasks assigned it.
The NATO spokesman says the arms collection operation has proceeded smoothly and that it is now up to the Macedonian government to decide how to take advantage of the promise of peace and stability that the disarming of the rebels has created. Mr. Brodeur says NATO still wants to be involved in that process, but he would not say how.