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U.S., U.K. Defense Leaders Discuss Balkans, Other Concerns

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2001 – First Bosnia, then Kosovo, and now the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia -- U.S. and other NATO-led troops are on the fringes of the latest Balkans hotspot.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld responds to a reporter's query at a Pentagon news conference with Geoffrey Hoon (right), British secretary of state for defense. The two defense leaders met March 21, 2001, to discuss issues important to both countries and to NATO. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

While the United States is concerned about the growing threat to regional stability, there are no plans to send additional U.S. troops to Macedonia, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here March 21. The United States is addressing the Kosovo-Macedonian border violence through its role in NATO's peacekeeping operation in Kosovo, he said.

About 5,600 U.S. troops are engaged in the NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping mission. Another 400 provide logistics support from a base near Skopje, Macedonia.

"There is a renewed effort to see that the patrolling along the border of Macedonia is improved and strengthenedā€¦," the secretary said.

Rumsfeld talked to reporters at the Pentagon following a meeting with his British counterpart, Secretary of State for Defense Geoffrey Hoon, to discuss a range of issues important to both countries and to NATO.

Escalating violence in the Balkans was high on the agenda. In the latest development in the region, Macedonian military forces launched an offensive March 21 against an estimated several hundred ethnic Albanian rebels dug into the hills outside Tetovo, Macedonia's second largest city.

Rumsfeld and Hoon called for using the NATO-led forces already in Kosovo effectively and conducting more vigorous border patrols. NATO's Kosovo Force has deployed about 300 more troops, including 150 Americans, to the border from other areas within Kosovo.

Ethnic Albanian extremists, Hoon said, "cannot use the border as a way of avoiding action" by both the Macedonian government and by NATO's Kosovo Force.

He called Macedonia the most successful of the states that rose from the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. "Having expended such effort in Bosnia and Kosovo to try and provide stability for that deeply troubled region, we would not want to see Macedonia as another tinderbox," he noted.

The United Kingdom has had a military adviser in Macedonia for some time, Hoon noted, and his government is increasing the advice and help it provides. Were Macedonia to make a direct request for military assistance, he said, "we would consider that."

"That's not something that is on the agenda for the moment," Hoon said, "because clearly, it is a matter for Macedonia -- in the first place -- to resolve."

During the press conference, the British defense leader also reiterated his government's support for the Joint Strike Fighter, the U.S. attack aircraft of the future. Rumsfeld said the future of the JSF depends on the results of the department's ongoing strategic review.

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Joint News Conference with Secretaries Rumsfeld and Hoon, March 21, 2001

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