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NATO Seeks to Aid Kosovo's Neighbors

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 8, 1998 – NATO allies are considering ways to help the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania shore up security and protect their borders in light of the ongoing crisis in Kosovo.

"We are determined to help prevent escalation of the crisis in Kosovo, particularly the introduction of illegal weapons," a senior NATO official told reporters. Kosovo, an area of southern Serbia, borders Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM. Ethnic Albanians comprise an estimated 90 percent of Kosovo's population. During a May 6 North Atlantic Council meeting here, NATO authorities reviewed alliance efforts and discussed what more can be done to enhance security in the region, the official said. To date, NATO has focused on preventing the violence from spreading to neighboring nations.

NATO-led stabilization forces in Bosnia, for example, recently stepped up border monitoring to ensure there is no illicit traffic in weapons or personnel toward Kosovo, the official said. NATO also has formed new individual partnerships with the FYROM and Albania. Future partnership events will stress activities most applicable to the immediate crisis, he said.

NATO has slated a major exercise, Cooperative Best Effort, for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in September. The exercise will demonstrate political solidarity among the allies and partner nations and provide practical training for FYROM armed forces, he said.

Recent increased violence in Kosovo between Serb authorities and ethnic Albanians seeking independence led NATO officials to move up the exercise schedule and broaden its scope. They intend to make it "a more complicated and ambitious exercise to send a clear political signal of NATO's involvement," the senior official said.

At present, U.N. forces monitor the FYROM's border with Serbia and Albania. NATO authorities are waiting to see if the United Nations extends the U.N. Preventive Deployment Force mandate due to expire at the end of August. About 300 Americans are among the 1,000 U.N. troops stationed along the rugged, mountainous border area, which historically has served as a smuggling route.

As discussions get under way on continuing the U.N. mission, NATO authorities are keeping open minds as to the role NATO could play, the official said. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is slated to meet NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and other allied officials here in early June.

Albania also has sought NATO's guidance and assistance regarding the regional crisis. Alliance members aim to "help Albanian forces help themselves," the official said.

Over the next few weeks, NATO authorities will look at four options: conducting a Partnership for Peace exercise in Albania within a few months; increasing other Partnership for Peace activities; scheduling ship visits by NATO's Mediterranean Fleet; and providing materiel, training, command and control equipment and other assistance.

"This is not contingency planning," the senior official stressed repeatedly. "This is simply a preliminary look at various possibilities using the NATO structures. The main focus is seeing if there's more we can do under the Partnership for Peace."

In the case of NATO holding a Partnership exercise in Albania quickly, for instance, "it's very difficult to improvise a military exercise in 48 hours," he pointed out. "Our military authorities have to advise us of what they're able to do within a timeframe of one month."

In the meantime, NATO plans to open a three-person office June 1 in the Albanian capital, Tirana, to coordinate Partnership activities. Alliance assessment teams are visiting Albania to determine where NATO assistance could be directed.

"We also want to see what kind of help NATO countries can give to Albanian armed forces, using NATO as a clearinghouse in terms of materiel, training and command and control -- practical things to enhance the ability of the Albanian armed forces to monitor the border effectively," the official said.

NATO has made no decisions, no commitments, and there is no talk of putting NATO military forces in Albania, the official stressed. This is a preliminary discussion of possible options, he said.

"Military authorities will report back around the middle of May with their initial ideas on a totally noncommittal basis," he said. The ideas will be discussed at the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg May 28 and 29. "We need good military advice on different options before plunging in to any decisions or political discussion."

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