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An elderly woman passes a tank next to a blockade on the outskirts of Tetovo, August 28, 2001. Macedonian civilians from Tetovo blocked a military column, which tried to withdraw from its previous position as a part of the NATO operation collecting weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels on Tuesday. Macedonian civilians claim that they will remain unprotected from rebel attacks if the army withdraws, they also suspect that NATO will be unable to disarm insurgents. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
An Orthodox priest walks beside the remains of St. Atanasius Orthodox church, in the Macedonian village of Lesok, August 28, 2001 after the structure was destroyed on August 20. Hundreds of Macedonians gathered on Tuesday at a revered Orthodox monastery, watched from a nearby hillside by ethnic Albanian rebels whose control of the area drove many of the worshippers from their homes. The service of the Assumption, celebrated on August 28 by the Orthodox Christian church, was held under the burning sun in the northwestern village of Lesok. The nearby church where the service should have been held is now little more than a huge pile of rubble, after an explosion last week which Macedonian villagers blame on fighters from the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA). REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
A group of women walk over the remains of St. Atanasius Orthodox church in the Macedonian village of Lesok August 28, 2001. The Church was destroyed in a blast last week. Albanian rebels once controlled the area from a nearby hillside forcing Macedonians to flea. Now hundreds of Macedonians have returned to the area for Orthodox Christian Assumption services. The destruction of the Church forced Macedonian Christians to hold their service outdoors. (Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters)
A British soldier wipes his face as Albanian guerrilla fighters stand in a line to hand in weapons at a collection point set in the village of Brodec, Macedonia August 28, 2001. NATO continues collecting weapons as part of Operation Essential Harvest. Albanian rebels have agreed to give up weapons in return for greater civil rights for the Albanian minority population. (Peter Andrews/Reuters)
An Albanian guerrilla fighter gives a thumbs-up gesture as he stands in a line with his comrades in order to brings weapons to the collection point set up in a house in the village of Brodec, Macedonia August 28, 2001. NATO troops continued to collect weapons throughout the region as part of Operation Essential Harvest. (Peter Andrews/Reuters)
German army Bundeswehr paratroopers stand guard beside a convoy during their training for the Macedonian NATO mission "Essential Harvest," in a camp in Baumholder near the western German town of Kaiserslautern, in southwestern Germany, August 28, 2001. Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will decide on August 29, 2001 whether German troops will take part in the NATO mission. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
NATO mission in Macedonia rolls on, problems loom.
By Andrew Gray
SKOPJE (Reuters) - NATO soldiers were set on Tuesday to collect hundreds more weapons from ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Macedonia after an initial day's haul of more than 400, but several potential obstacles to peace loomed on the horizon.
Vowing not to be deterred by the death on Monday of a British soldier killed after his car was hit by a chunk of concrete thrown by youths, NATO hopes to have gathered by Wednesday a third of its total target of 3,300 weapons in "Operation Essential Harvest".
Officers from the 4,500-strong Task Force Harvest voiced satisfaction at the first day of collecting weapons which the rebels have agreed to surrender as part of a peace plan meant to give greater rights to Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority.
The NATO mission aims to help nip Macedonia's conflict in the bud and prevent the all-out warfare which engulfed many parts of the old Yugoslavia in the past decade. Monday's surrender of weapons passed smoothly.
While the precise circumstances remain unclear, the attack on the 20-year-old soldier offered a reminder that many members of the Macedonian majority view NATO's mission with scepticism or downright hostility.
Several senior Macedonian politicians have made clear they believe the disarmament operation is a charade and that NATO's target figure is nothing like the full number of weapons held by the rebels, who began their insurgency in February this year.
"This is a country that's been torn by conflict and there are many people on many sides, emotions running high, and a lot of rhetoric that helps feed these emotions," said Major Barry Johnson, a NATO spokesman in Macedonia.
"Particularly in youth, we all know (people) sometimes take action based on the rhetoric they have heard."
MONASTERY VISIT MAY BE FLASHPOINT
Feelings may run high on Tuesday as a group of Macedonians plan an Assumption Day visit to a monastery in the northwestern village of Lesok, where a church on one of the country's most revered Orthodox Christian sites was blown up last week.
The site is close to rebel-held territory but guerrilla leaders have denied they were responsible for the blast.
In another potential flashpoint, Macedonians displaced by the conflict are reported to be planning a rally in the capital Skopje on Thursday night -- the eve of a parliament session meant to begin discussing the political parts of the peace plan.
A key question for many analysts is whether Macedonian deputies are ready to change the constitution and pass the new legislation required to turn the peace deal into reality.
The deal aims to create greater representation of ethnic Albanians in the police force and greater official use of the Albanian language, among other measures.
NATO insists that most Macedonians are not hostile to its mission and points out that its task force is in the former Yugoslav republic at the invitation of the government.
But Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, two leading hawks in a cabinet which also includes moderates, have both voiced strong doubts about both the peace process and NATO's role in it.
Boskovski on Monday dismissed the NATO operation as nothing more than symbolism and proof "the international community is playing with the feelings of the nation and playing with the feelings with every honest Macedonian".
Boskovski's ministry has estimated the National Liberation Army (NLA) guerrilla group has some 85,000 weapons.
Many Macedonians see NATO as having sided with ethnic Albanian guerrillas in neighbouring Kosovo during the war there and believe the alliance has failed to stem the flow of weapons and personnel from the province to support the NLA.
But NATO counters that its peacekeepers in Kosovo have detained 750 suspected NLA members since stepping up its border surveillance operations in June. The KFOR peace force said they had detained 96 suspects on Sunday evening and Monday morning.
Villagers flee racial purge by Albanian guerrillas.
Ethnic cleansing haunts Macedonia, reports Julius Strauss in Tearce
THE Matex clothing factory in the rebel-held village of Tearce was the main employer of local Macedonians. A little more than a week ago it was razed to the ground.
Only the blackened, metal frames of sewing machines and chairs show where the seamstresses worked.
Glass skylights were shattered by the heat of the flames. In the guardhouse, drawers were ripped out, and official papers and clothes scattered on the floor.
Macedonian houses in the village fared little better. Several had been torched, others peppered with automatic fire. Two cafes and a general store had been looted and wrecked.
Outside one an ice cream freezer stood, the cones and ice lollies giving off a sickly-sweet odour in the summer heat.
Of the 1,200 Macedonians who lived in this village until a month ago, only a few dozen are left.
"Their houses burned down because the electrical wires became too hot and they caught fire," smirked Samir Hyseni, the 29-year-old proprietor of the Sport cafe, who was wearing a Manchester United football shirt. His friends sniggered.
As Nato began the task of collecting weapons from ethnic Albanian guerrillas, evidence was emerging of a widespread terror campaign by the rebels.
They have kidnapped dozens of Macedonian men, put to the torch scores of Macedonian houses and looted many more.
In the past five days alone they have also blown up an Orthodox church in the village of Lesok and they are the prime suspects behind a dawn explosion at the weekend which almost levelled a motel, killing two men who worked there.
The targeting of civilians has been less overt and systematic than in neighbouring Kosovo, where tens of thousands of Serbs and gipsies have been forced out. But local Macedonians say the fear created by the guerrillas' terror tactics is tantamount to ethnic cleansing.
"It's an unseen terror," said Jovan Milovanovski, whose 19-year-old son Robert was kidnapped near the village of Lesok on July 23.
Today Jovan, who has not heard from his son since, lives in a sparsely furnished room at a refugee centre in Skopje which he shares with his wife Ljubica, two remaining children and a stranger.
He said: "Two hours after the kidnapping we packed up and left. We had only the clothes we were standing in."
The five share three beds, have an hour of hot water a day and wash their clothes in an old, red bucket. Each day Jovan travels to a road blockade set up by angry Macedonian refugees on the main road to Kosovo while Ljubica visits various relief organisations seeking news of her son.
She said: "Robert was such a quiet boy. He didn't drink or socialise. Even the Albanians loved him. They said he was a child like no other."
Budimir Apostolski, an official who lives in the front-line town of Tetovo, says he has another 52 such cases on his books.
On Sunday evening the guerrillas released about 12 hostages, including an American Macedonian, but many more missing people remain unaccounted for.
Yesterday, the Red Cross said another seven Macedonian civilians had been released. Mr Apostolski said: "And all we ask is to get them back. If they dead we want their bodies returned."
One local man was kidnapped only days after his wedding. His distraught bride walks the streets of Tetovo each day visiting the local branches of the Red Cross, the United Nations refugee agency and any other organisations that might help.
What the relatives fear most is that their men have been tortured. Three road workers kidnapped by the rebels a month ago were cut with knives. They said they were also forced to perform sexual acts on each other.
Another man was reported to have been severely beaten and then hung from a tree with wire tied around his wrists. Mr Apostolski said: "It is a repeat of the Kosovo script. Their aim is ethnic cleansing and genocide."
In Block 77, one of two huge, shabby Communist-era housing estates in Tetovo now controlled by the rebels, 70 percent of the Macedonians living there have already left.
In the purely Macedonian village of Lesok, where Robert was kidnapped, the guerrilla's tactics have paid off.
Of 380 villagers, only about 40 remain. A month ago armed rebels went door-to-door ordering people out. Then they made off with television sets, video players and other valuables before setting fire to several houses.
"They took everything," said Ratko Gligorovski, who sat in his garden yesterday surrounded by carefully pruned pink and red roses. "Then they began to burn the houses."
Boy gang incited to ambush Nato men.
FROM MICHAEL EVANS IN SKOPJE
SAPPER Ian Collins, 22 and with two operational tours behind him in Bosnia and Northern Ireland, had barely started his third mission, in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, when a group of Macedonian Slav teenagers threw a large chunk of concrete from a flyover bridge at his Land Rover, smashing through the windscreen and hitting him on the head.
The youths, aged between 14 and 17, ambushed his vehicle as he drove under the bridge crossing the main Skopje to Kumanovo dual carriageway. After the Land Rover had skidded and overturned, they surrounded the Land Rover and further threatened the fatally injured driver and the young captain from his regiment sitting next to him.
The youths appear to have been motivated by some politicians denunciations of Natos role in planning to disarm the ethnic Albanian rebels of only 3,300 weapons.
The attack on Sapper Collins on the outskirts of Skopje happened at 7.15pm on Sunday evening. He had been driving westbound towards the city.
Sima Stojic, an 18-year-old Macedonian Slav living in a house in the hamlet of Magari, where the ambush took place, saw the murder of the young soldier from 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, based in Aldershot.
Speaking in broken English, learnt during two years in Detroit, the part-time mechanic witnessed the incident while riding home on his scooter. There were about ten of them on the bridge and another five at the side of the road, he said.
Five of them on the bridge were on one side looking out for a military vehicle, the other five were standing ready with a piece of concrete about 1ft long and 9in wide. I saw one of them lift this concrete slab high over his head and then throw it down when the vehicle went under the bridge. It went through the windscreen and another piece went through the window.
The vehicle skidded violently from side to side for about 15 metres and then turned over. It was a dreadful sound. Some of the boys then ran down to where the vehicle was and started to throw stones at it. But soldiers came from other vehicles and they ran off. I know the youths, I know their names.
Pointing to a pile of concrete pieces not far from the roadside, he said: I know the name of the kid who threw the concrete that hit the vehicle. After it happened, they all ran off over the dual carriageway to the other side where the school is. None of them came from Magari.
As soon as Mr Stojic had described what he had seen, a Macedonian policeman approached from the bridge and spoke to him. Within minutes a police car had arrived and he was taken away for questioning. He was released about six hours later. He said that even though it was known where the ambush had taken place the British Army had the precise grid reference no police officer had previously interviewed him or anyone else in Magari.
According to the British military, Sapper Collins and the officer were travelling without any other Nato vehicles. Neither was wearing a helmet or flak-jacket because they were not required to do so. Yesterday Brigadier Barney White-Spunner, commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade who is masterminding the collection of arms from the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA), sent out an order for all soldiers travelling in vehicles to wear helmets until further notice.
Major Barry Johnson, the Nato spokesman in Skopje, said that the youth had thrown the piece of concrete with enough malice to kill the British soldier. He admitted that no one could describe the environment in Macedonia as friendly after six months of war and that emotions were running high, particularly among the young, whose actions appeared to be based on the rhetoric they hear.
He said that a passing American military vehicle came to the rescue of the British soldiers. The Americans, who are providing casualty evacuation for Operation Essential Harvest, swiftly arranged for Sapper Collins to be flown by helicopter to Camp Able Sentry, a US base in Kosovo, and then on to the tented hospital at Camp Bondsteel, the main American headquarters in Kosovo. The captain was not injured.
However, the young soldiers head injuries were so serious that it was considered necessary, once he had been scanned, to fly him to Skopje university hospital to be seen by a specialist neurosurgeon. He arrived at the hospital at 11.45pm, 3 hours after the incident, and spent four hours on the operating table. He died at 4.20am yesterday.
The British Armys special investigations branch is helping to investigate the death and is co-operating with the Macedonian police.
Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the Nato Secretary-General, said in Brussels: I deplore this deliberate act of violence, which is absurd considering Nato troops are in Macedonia to assist the people and the Government in achieving a peaceful and lasting solution to the present crisis.
The death of Sapper Collins overshadowed the first day of Natos arms collection operation, in which the NLA handed over about 400 weapons near the village of Otlja, about ten miles from Kumanovo. In what was described by Nato as a formal ceremony, the NLA placed the weapons in a warehouse before they were counted by alliance troops, identified and packaged for eventual destruction.
A company of about 120 British soldiers from the 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment guarded the perimeter of the weapons collection site.
The weapons included 300 assault rifles, 60-80 light machineguns, ten heavy machineguns, up to 15 rocket-launchers and 50 mines.
KFOR's Armored Vehicle Tried to Break The Blockade Over The Refugees' Bodies.
Ninth day of the "Blace" blockade
Dragan Gerasimovski, one of the displaced Macedonians from Tetovo region, revealed this information, adding that Tabanovce and Erebino will be blocked these days.
The condition of "Blace" border pass blockade, is the same after the ninth day, except for the fact that the number of kidnapped people is increasing every day, says Dragan Gerasimovski, the leader of Coordinative body of displaced people. According to him, the number of kidnapped civilians from terrorists is around seventy now and the members of Coordinative body do not know anything about them.
Coordinative body has not received any information regarding their release, which is why Macedonians who were forced out of their homes are more persistent in their demands and Gerasimovski announces new blockages.
-If our demands aren't met, we shall set up blockades on Tabanovce and Erebino border passes. Blace blockade has been successful, although an KFOR armored vehicle tried to go over our bodies on Saturday in order to break it by force. The people and the local police did not allow them to go over the human wall we made. We have information that KFOR vehicles are passing the border through the road, which is close to Orman village, Gerasimovski proclaimed.
Team from "Health Care Center"-Skopje is "following" the condition of the displaced at Blace.
Dr Ilija Karanfilovic, being responsible at Blace yesterday, says that except for the difficulties with blood pressure and headaches from the sun, people do not suffer major health problems. According to him, it is expected that these days the team at Blace carries analgesics and high blood pressure medicaments with them all the time.
From the day before yesterday, these forcibly banished Macedonians are supported by some famous local entertainers who perform concerts at the border pass. Citizens of Skopje also come to visit and express their support.
Russian Church Choirs Tour Bulgaria.
They are to hold concerts in 10 towns, in the Monastery of Bachkovo and the "Alexander Nevski" Cathedral.
Three Russian church choirs are to arrive in Bulgaria from August 29 till September 6. Performers from the Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary, the choir to the Church of "St. Nikolay" with the Tretyakovska Gallery and the chamber formation "Classics" of the Moscow Musical and Pedagogical Institute will promote concerts under the motto "Voices of Orthodox Russia Sing in Bulgaria". Russian Patriarch Alexis II personally gave his blessing to the tour. During their sojourn the guests are to visit all the important monuments of Orthodox culture. They are to hold concerts in Varna, Shoumen, Veliko Tarnovo, Sofia, the Monastery of Bachkovo, Plovdiv, Kazanlak, Stara Zagora, Sliven and Bourgas. On August 29 in the central square of Varna it is expected that Patriarch Maxim, ministers and public figures are to attend the concert. The performance of the choirs in the "Alexander Nevski" Cathedral is also expected with great interest.
US Congress Backs Bulgaria for NATO.
John McCaine and PM Saxe-Cobburg-Gotha discuss the crisis in the Middle East.
"The new situation in the Middle East after the visit of King Abdullah II" was one of the topics discussed yesterday by Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Cobburg-Gotha and American senator John McCaine. The US guest arrived in Sofia just two hours after the Jordan's King left the country. King Abdullah II is currently in the town of Tula, Russia, one of the centers of Russian war-industry. Senator McCaine was decorated by President Petar Stoyanov with an Order of Stara Planina, first degree for merits to Bulgaria. The meeting between the Premier and the Senator was not announced in the preliminary schedule. The media were informed about it by a press release, quoting the American guest. To him, the two talked also about "the numerous ways in which the USA could help Bulgaria, mostly in economic terms". Simeon Saxe-Cobburg-Gotha assured him the government will accelerate the reforms in the economics and defence sectors. We will keep a close watch on this development, the senator promised. The majority of the USA Congress supports the candidature of Bulgaria for NATO, the senator said in the Presidency, a few minutes after he was decorated with the Order. McCaine was delighted by the aerobatics, demonstrated by Commanding the Air Base in Graf Ignatievo Gen. Evgeni Manev and Lieutenant-Colonel Ivan Lalov.
Bulgaria cancels plans to buy U.S. F-16 warplanes.
SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) Bulgaria has scrapped plans to replace some of its Russian-made military aircraft with U.S. F-16 jet fighters, a senior army officer said Tuesday.
The government will instead repair and refurbish its 21 Russian MiG-29 jet fighters in an effort to upgrade its force meet NATO military standards. Bulgaria hopes to receive an invitation to join NATO during the alliance's summit next year.
Only three of the fighters are in working condition due to lack of spare parts, said Gen. Dimitar Georgiev, air defense commander. The country's 235-plane air force also includes older Soviet-made MiG-23, MiG-21 and Su-25 fighters.
The previous government of former prime minister Ivan Kostov considered replacing the MiG-29s with American F-16 fighters so that the fleet would fulifill NATO requirements.
But because the country could only afford used planes which could require extensive and costly repairs officials decided to forego the purchase.
"There is no point in buying recycled U.S. planes," Georgiev said. "They will require different navigation and auxiliary equipment.