NATO to begin collection of Macedonia rebels' weapons


NATO has set a target of 3,300 weapons to be gathered from ethnic Albanian rebels under plans to defuse six months of ethnic conflict in Macedonia which lead to today's killing of two Macedonians in Tetovo.

This morning, two employees were killed when an explosion ripped through a Macedonian-owned motel in Celopek, six miles south of the country's second-largest city, Tetovo.

The employees killed in the blast had explosives strapped to their bodies, state television reported, quoting police sources speaking on condition of anonymity.

Police also reported today an exchange of infantry and artillery fire in the Kumanovo area north-east of the capital Skopje.

It was feared today's deaths could add pressure on the alliance on the eve of commencement of NATO’s collection of weapons.

National Liberation Army (NLA) guerrillas have agreed to hand over the weapons and disband in return for reforms granting greater civil rights to their minority Albanian ethnic kin. NATO is in Macedonia to collect them at Skopje's request.

Announcing the start of the weapon collection mission, Major General Lange stressed the list of arms for surrender - described by alliance officials as credible - had not been officially approved by the Skopje government. But diplomats insisted this would not jeopardise the Operation Essential Harvest.

But Prime Minister Mr Ljubco Georgievski said yesterday if NATO only collected about 3,000 weapons, its mission would be a ludicrous failure and war would resume once alliance troops depart.

Major General Lange conceded the specific numbers had not been rubber stamped by the government, but emphasised that the terms of Operation Essential Harvest did not require them to be.

In a separate development, Albanian rebels released eight Macedonian prisoners to the International Committee of the Red Cross today in two separate handovers.

Four men captured by guerrillas in the former Yugoslav republic and released in Lipkovo, a village deep behind rebel lines, smiled and waved as they climbed into a Red Cross vehicle. Two were members of the Macedonian security forces.

Another four men were reunited with their families in the capital Skopje several hours later, having been handed over to the ICRC near the village of Radusa, also in the rebel heartland of northwest Macedonia.