Albanians' surrendered weapons reportedly out of service

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- About a third of the rifles and other field weapons so far surrendered by ethnic Albanians in Macedonia do not work and may not have been used in recent fighting, military sources said Tuesday.

Such a tally would raise questions about the rebels' commitment to disarm and bolster objections from Macedonians who claim the peace accord will fail to cripple the insurgents' ability to battle.

NATO spokesman Barry Johnson confirmed some of the rebel weapons were "non-operational." But he set the figure lower: about 5 percent beyond ordinary repair and between 15 percent and 20 percent needing some work to return to service.

The military sources -- from a NATO nation involved in the weapons collection -- said as many as 35 percent to 40 percent of the semi-automatic rifles, machines guns and smaller arms were "out of operation."

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that many of the out-of-service weapons were missing parts and had other serious problems. It appeared many were not used since February, when ethnic Albanian rebels began their uprising for greater rights, according to the sources.

The Western-brokered peace plan calls for rebel disarmament in exchange for greater political and language rights for ethnic Albanians, who comprise about a third of the nation's 2 million people.

Extent of arsenal unclear

The extent of the rebels' arsenal -- and its firepower -- is unclear.

Under the peace pact, NATO agreed to collect 3,300 weapons by late September. Macedonian officials, however, have claimed the rebels could have up to 60,000 weapons, including guns, mortars and other rockets.

The Balkans -- always a crossroads for arms -- became flooded with weapons in 1997 when Albanian military bases and police stations were looted in nationwide chaos after the collapse of phony investment schemes.

NATO is near the midway point in its weapons collection mission, which is scheduled to resume Wednesday. Most of the arms surrendered so far have been assault rifles, such as AK-47s, and light machine guns, NATO said.

But NATO officials have warned that Macedonian paramilitary gangs could increase worries by ethnic Albanian rebels and hamper the success of the weapons collection.

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