On August 27, NATO launched a mission to collect 3,300 weapons that ethnic Albanian rebels in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia agreed to surrender in exchange for expanded political rights. The mission, known as Operation Essential Harvest, is expected to last 30 days.
After months of escalating conflict between Macedonian troops and ethnic Albanian guerrillas, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski—fearing a civil war—requested June 14 that NATO help disarm the rebels. NATO agreed but predicated its support on four conditions: a ceasefire; a political agreement among Macedonia’s main political parties, including representatives from both the majority Slav and minority Albanian populations; a voluntary disarmament plan acceptable to the rebels; and an agreed understanding on how NATO would conduct its operation.
After determining that these conditions had been met, on August 22, NATO authorized the full deployment of its weapons collection task force, numbering close to 5,000 troops. The United States did not supply any ground forces, but it is providing medical and logistical support.
Some estimates put the total number of rebel-owned weapons in Macedonia at more that 80,000. However, NATO operation commander Major General Gunnar Lange countered on August 26 that his mission’s target of 3,300 weapons—more than 2,950 assault rifles, 210 machine guns, and 130 mortars and anti-tank weapons—was “very close to our own estimates” of rebel stockpiles. NATO will not ferret out and confiscate weapons in Macedonia, only taking those turned in voluntarily.
Lange also disputed claims that Operation Essential Harvest is merely a gesture, saying it would be a “very real and substantial effort to remove the combat effectiveness” of the Albanians. Speaking August 29, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson added that NATO troops had recently stopped some 2,000 weapons and 150,000 rounds of ammunition from being smuggled into Macedonia.
Once the rebels give up their weapons and disband, the Macedonian parliament, in exchange, will pass reforms codifying ethnic Albanian rights. As part of that compromise, parliament promised to begin the reform process after NATO collected one-third of the projected 3,300 rebel weapons. NATO reached that mark on August 30