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[ALBSA-Info] Pentagon says Albanian evacuation was right actionGazhebo at aol.com Gazhebo at aol.com
Tue Jun 26 22:59:15 EDT 2001
Pentagon says Albanian evacuation was right action By Tabassum Zakaria WASHINGTON, June 26 (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Tuesday stood by a decision to send U.S. troops to evacuate ethnic Albanian rebels with their weapons from a village in Macedonia, saying the goal had been to defuse a volatile situation. It was the first time the U.S. military had taken such an active step in the conflict between the government and minority ethnic Albanians in the Balkan state. But a Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, said the action did not suggest a new U.S. or NATO policy. "It was a new event. We've not done this before. But what I'm reluctant to predict is this being a harbinger of some major new policy decision and a new area of continued activity on the part of U.S. forces," he said. "I do not think that is the case." The evacuation on Monday sparked riots in the Macedonian capital Skopje by ethnic Slavs furious at a cease-fire deal that allowed the U.S. evacuation of ethnic Albanian rebels. Discussions on using U.S. troops started on Sunday night, including talks between NATO Secretary General George Robertson and Supreme Commander Gen. Joseph Ralston. The evacuation decision was agreed to by NATO, the European Union, the Macedonian government and the ethnic Albanian rebels, Quigley said. "In this particular case we feel very much that it was the right thing to do," he said at a media briefing. A U.S. convoy of about 20 vehicles, mostly buses and four armored Humvees armed with machine guns, evacuated about 350 ethnic Albanians including about 100 rebels from the village of Aracinovo to another village 11 miles (18 km) away, Quigley said. The convoy involved 81 U.S. military personnel and 20 others mainly driving the buses, the Pentagon said. After the convoy dropped the Albanians off at the village, it took nine hours to return to Camp Able Sentry, less than 10 miles (16 km) from Aracinovo, because large groups of people, some armed, had gathered at checkpoints. When the convoy arrived at the first checkpoint a crowd started to gather with weapons, so the U.S. commander decided to seek another route, Quigley said. A Hunter unmanned aerial vehicle was sent to scout ahead on the second route and it detected another checkpoint at which a crowd was gathering, he said. So the convoy halted and sent the Hunter to search for a third route that was clear. The United States was the only country that provided the troops and the vehicles for the evacuation because they were immediately available, Quigley said. "Speed was an important element of this operation because of the rising tensions and the desire to defuse it as quickly as possible," he said. The United States urged Macedonians on Tuesday to pull back from "mob action" after riots prompted the Balkan state's president to issue a stark warning on the threat of civil war. "I want to make clear that we condemn the violence overnight in Skopje. The European Union has said the same thing. We join them in that condemnation," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a news briefing.
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