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NATO to Deploy a Follow-up Force in Macedonia - 2001-09-28

In Macedonia, NATO says it will quickly begin deploying a new security mission now that ethnic Albanian rebels have disarmed. The move comes as the leader of the rebels has announced his group is formally disbanding.

NATO political leaders have given the go-ahead for the deployment of a 1,000-strong force to Macedonia, to follow-up the disarmament of ethnic Albanian rebels there.

The new mission, to be led by Germany, will protect teams of unarmed international monitors overseeing the return of the police and army to rebel-held areas.

The NATO decision came after last minute talks that resolved disputes with the Macedonian government over the size and mandate of the force.

The government insisted that the operation, called Amber Fox, be limited to three months, though it could be extended at the end of that period. The government says the number of active troops in the mission is also limited to 700, with the remainder in reserve only in case of an emergency rescue operation for the monitors.

NATO officials are promising the force will deploy at what they are calling, "light speed" to quickly replace the 4,500 troops now in Macedonia. They say rapidly setting up the new mission is intended to bolster confidence in the peace process and prevent extremists from using a gap in security to restart the conflict.

Meanwhile, the leader of ethnic Albanian rebels says his National Liberation Army, NLA, has been formally disbanded. After handing in nearly 3,900 rifles, mortars and grenade launchers to NATO forces, NLA chief Ali Ahmeti told his soldiers they must now return to civilian life.

However, an expected amnesty for rebel fighters has not yet been enacted into law. The move - strongly urged by NATO Secretary-General George Robertson - was promised by Macedonia's president as part of the peace agreement.

The Macedonian parliament has not yet ratified any of the provisions of a peace accord signed last month. A series of constitutional amendments granting greater rights to ethnic Albanians has been given preliminary approval, but faces a tough battle to secure a needed two-thirds majority in parliament.

One provision of the accord has come under attack by the Macedonian Orthodox church, which argues that it should retain the special status it now enjoys in the constitution. The head of the church, Archbishop Stefan, has threatened to excommunicate lawmakers who vote to give Islam and Catholicism equal treatment under the law.