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[ALBSA-Info] NATO says no plan to return Albanians to MacedoniaGazhebo at aol.com Gazhebo at aol.com
Wed Jun 27 21:51:10 EDT 2001
NATO says no plan to return Albanians to Macedonia By Douglas Hamilton BRUSSELS, June 27 (Reuters) - NATO has completed planning for a force to collect the arms of Albanian guerrillas in Macedonia but has no plans to escort some 70,000 Albanian refugees back to their homes, a NATO official said on Wednesday. He said operation Essential Harvest, expected to require a force of around 3,000 troops, would be confined to setting up arms collection points and would only go ahead in a benign environment following conclusion of a peace agreement. Final approval of the plan by all 19 allies was expected by Friday morning and NATO was "pretty much close to having all the resources we need," pledged by various countries. An operation on Monday to evacuate 250 guerrillas and 200 civilians from the Albanian village of Aracinovo, whose occupation was said to put the capital Skopje within range of their mortars, was "an exception," the official told reporters. "It was certainly not a new form of NATO engagement or anything like that," he said. "We're not considering at all an intervention force," the official added, declining to speculate on what will happen if no peace is concluded. He said NATO hoped the villagers would return to Aracinovo, but the alliance would not organise it. "We're not, certainly not at this stage, into putting together another task which would be to bring back these people. If a demilitarisation process creates the conditions for these people to come back that would be wonderful," he said. The UN refugee agency says some 70,000 Albanians have fled during five months of fighting, leaving some of their villages near the Kosovo and Yugoslavia border virtually empty. NO TIME TO PAINT BUSES The Aracinovo evacuation was also not a NATO operation as such, the NATO official said. Units of the U.S. French and Italian logistics teams in Macedonia had provided buses and escort for the convoys on a bilateral basis. "We didn't have time to paint the buses or provide shirts and ties for the drivers," the official said, explaining that a plan to have commercial contr actors do the bussing failed at the last moment and time was of the essence. The evacuation enraged Macedonians who had been told by their government that the guerrillas had surrendered and thought NATO was taking the rebels' side. Parliament was briefly occupied and shots were fired in the air. NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur denied reports in Macedonian media alleging that NATO, acting unilaterally, had provided the guerrillas with an "escape route." "This is not true. Everything that has been done was done in full consultation with the consent and approval of the Macedonian government as a whole at all stages of the operation," he said. The NATO official was asked about reports that the Macedonian prime minister and interior minister had triggered angry protests by condemning the NATO-assisted evacuation. "It's not helpful when you have dissenting voices, once a decision has been made and agreed by all, people who run in the street and start telling the president this was not a good decision, although they've been part and parcel of that decision," he said.
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