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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
Nato approves Macedonia force
US soldier in Macedonia after escorting rebels out of Aracinovo
Fifteen nations may take part in the Nato force
Nato has given final approval to a plan to send a 3,000-strong force to Macedonia, to help disarm ethnic Albanian rebels, if a political agreement brings a lasting ceasefire.

The decision came as Macedonia's Interior Minister, Ljube Boskovski, announced the demobilisation of thousands of police reservists in order to give peace negotiations a chance, and as calm returned to the country for the first time in weeks.

Protesters in Skopje
Uniiformed men played a key role in Monday's riot
The European Union's new permanent envoy to Macedonia, the former French Defence Minister Francois Leotard, also got down to work on Friday meeting President Boris Trajkovski for talks on the constitution.

Nato spokesman Yves Brodeur the alliance was ready to send the troops to Macedonia "provided the proper environment exists".

Goodwill gesture

He said Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders would have to settle their differences, adding: "Rebels also have to commit to laying down their arms and stop fighting."

I have to take this risky step so that I can give a chance to those who call themselves peacekeepers to solve the crisis peacefully

Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski
Fifteen of the 19 Nato member countries have promised to take part in the operation, though the US is expected to provide only logistical support.

The plan to demobilise police reservists comes less than a month after they were called up, in response to the arrival of Albanian guerrillas in the village of Aracinovo, on the outskirts of the the capital, Skopje.

The reservists were widely accused of being behind rioting in Skopje on Monday night, as thousands protested against a decision to allow the guerrillas to leave Aracinovo under Nato escort.

Mr Boskovski also said that some forces would be withdrawn from positions around Skopje, as a sign of goodwill.

"I have to take this risky step so that I can give a chance to those who call themselves peacekeepers to solve the crisis peacefully," he said.

'Guerrillas' detained

Mr Leotard is seeking to jump-start talks between Macedonian and ethnic Albanian politicians that broke down last week.

Francois Leotard
Mr Leotard: First meeting with President Trajkovski
He gave no details of his talks with President Trajkovski, except to say that they had touched on the Macedonian constitution.

The ethnic Albanian minority - some 30% of the population - has demanded constitutional changes to give them equal rights with the majority population.

On the border with Kosovo, US peacekeepers detained 30 suspected ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

Nato peacekeepers in Kosovo have been trying to hinder guerrilla movements across the border ever since the ethnic Albanian insurgency began in February.

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See also:

28 May 01 | Europe
The Albanian fund-raising machine
26 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Straw cancels Macedonia visit
27 Jun 01 | Media reports
Macedonian president 'guilty of success'
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