NATO Calls for Beefed-up Kosovo Forces
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 20, 2001 Responding to escalating violence in the Balkans, NATO is asking members for more troops to tighten its control of Kosovo's border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, speaking March 19 in Brussels, Belgium, said member states will be asked to beef up their forces in Kosovo to give the alliance more flexibility. About 5,600 Americans are among the 37,000 NATO peacekeeping troops now in Kosovo.
About a month ago, a few hundred guerrillas began fighting for minority rights and self-rule in Macedonia, where ethnic Albanians make up a third of the country's 2 million people. NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo stepped up border patrols to block the flow of men and weapons from Kosovo to insurgents in Macedonia.
U.S. troops patrolling the border March 7 engaged four gunmen in a firefight and captured three. No American soldiers were hurt in that exchange.
NATO also responded by allowing Yugoslav troops to move back into a 10-square-mile strip of southern Serbia bordering Kosovo. Ethnic Albanians reportedly have been using the area as a training ground, smuggling route and safe haven for offensive actions in Serbia and Macedonia. Only lightly armed Yugoslav police had been allowed in the area since Yugoslav forces pulled out of Kosovo in June 1999.
Over the past week, fighting along the border intensified between insurgents and FYROM military and police. The Macedonian government called up reservists to counter a five-day attack on the city of Tetovo and to prepare for wider conflict.
Robertson said the alliance strongly condemns recent attacks by ethnic Albanians against Macedonian soldiers and police. He said NATO leaders are confident enough troops are in place to do the job at the moment; he declined to say how many more would be needed.
NATO's governing body, the North Atlantic Council, and ambassadors of all the NATO member nations are slated to visit Skopje, Macedonia, and Pristina, Kosovo, in early April. Both NATO and the European Union stand behind Macedonia's democratic government, Robertson said.
That "common front," he said, "gives a very clear signal to the extremists that the work that they do is to the disadvantage of Albanians." The extremists are seriously damaging ethnic Albanians' interests and image in the region, he said, and their efforts to break up Macedonia are "doomed to failure."
Robertson said the alliance "will not contemplate the changing of boundaries by violence." Decisions should be made by the ballot box, he stressed, not by bombs or bullets. He called on the extremists to "focus on the ballot box to get the changes that they want, that they feel are necessary."
Macedonia's parliament intends to put reforms in place that will recognize the role of Albanians within the society, Robertson said. But there can be no question of "breaking up, federating or cantonizing" the country "now or in the future," he added.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim, appearing at the NATO press conference with Robertson, said his country is not asking for help within its borders, but only in the border region's rugged mountains and forests. "Macedonian security forces are able and will be able to take care of the security of our country, as they have done so far," he said.
Related Site of Interest:Remarks by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson, and the Foreign Minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Dr. Srgjan Kerim, 19 March 2001