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U.S., NATO Condemn Fighting in Macedonia

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2001 – The United States and NATO condemn the escalating violence ignited by extremist ethnic Albanian guerrillas in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and support efforts to quell the conflict.

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson announced his intent March 19 to seek more troops from NATO's 19 member nations to secure the Kosovo-FYROM border. U.S. officials said the president would decide whether to contribute more troops once the NATO request is received.

About 5,600 Americans are among the 37,000 peacekeepers in the NATO-led Kosovo Force. Another 400 U.S. troops provide logistics support for the Kosovo mission from a base in Skopje, Macedonia.

NATO has raised the profile and number of forces arrayed along the border, DoD spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley pointed out at a March 20 Pentagon news briefing. In the past few days, for instance, KFOR leaders deployed Task Force Viking, a reserve force of about 300 British and Norwegian troops, into the border area.

"U.S. forces and the others in the sector have stepped up their activities considerably in the last few days," Quigley said. Another 150 U.S. troops have moved to the border area in the U.S. sector in Kosovo to supplement the 150 already there. A Polish-Ukrainian battalion is deployed there as well.

So far, peacekeepers have detained insurgents trying to cross the border, interdicted arms shipments and seized weapon caches, Quigley said. American troops "visibly" patrol the border area under rules of engagement understood by all, he said.

The peacekeepers also have increased observation and reporting of activities along the border. Quigley said the territory is hard to monitor because of its sharply pitched hillsides and deep ravines. The few roads that exist are poorly maintained -- area residents still travel mainly by horseback or mule, he noted.

U.S. officials don't have an exact handle on the number of insurgents, but estimate it's in the hundreds. "We do feel the numbers of them are quite small, and they do not represent the views of the vast majority of the people living in the FYROM," Quigley said.

He described the insurgents generally as nationalistic young men who have no families or jobs and whose goal is to disrupt the status quo. "They're hotheads and they're extremists by anyone's yardstick," he said.

The United States "unequivocally supports Macedonia's territorial integrity and the legitimate efforts of the Macedonian government to protect the rule of law," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said March 19.

Boucher said the insurgents have no legitimacy and should address political grievances through the country's democratic structures, not violence. He said they do not represent the majority of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian citizens, who comprise about a third of the 2 million population.

He called the extremist ethnic Albanian violence along the Macedonian border "completely different" from the situation in Kosovo in 1999, when NATO conducted Operation Allied Force, its 78-day air war against Serbian Yugoslavia.

In Kosovo, Boucher said, NATO stopped an army bent on killing or removing ethnic Albanians -- more than 90 percent of the Serbian province's 2 million population. Ethnic Albanian Kosovars were trying to protect their homes, families and rights, he said. In Macedonia, he continued, people who live in the multiethnic, democratic country are "trying to assert some sort of control with guns."

Denying the guerrillas safe haven is an important part of NATO's strategy, Boucher noted. NATO has allowed Yugoslav police and troops to move back into a buffer zone along the border that had been closed to them since the Serbs pulled out of Kosovo in June 1999.

"We are operating within a U.N. mandate," Boucher said. "We intend to do as much as we can and look for other ways to provide support for the Macedonian government within that mandate."

Related Sites of Interest:

  • DoD News Briefing, March 20, 2001
  • AFPS News Article: NATO Calls for Beefed-up Kosovo Forces
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