NATO to start final stage of Albanian weapons collection

Thursday, September 20, 2001

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- NATO will start collecting the last weapons being surrendered by ethnic Albanian insurgents on Thursday, reflecting rebel readiness to fulfill their part of a peace deal, an alliance spokesman said Wednesday.

U.S. Maj. Barry Johnson suggested the last stage of NATO's Essential Harvest mission would begin even if parliament delays its part of the bargain -- agreeing on the text of draft amendments to the constitution giving the country's ethnic Albanians more rights.

Johnson said collection sites to gather the last of 3,300 weapons being surrendered by the rebels will be set up in two days.

The Western-brokered peace deal, adopted last month, envisions ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army handing over their weapons to NATO in three separate phases, followed by parliament action to amend the constitution to grant ethnic Albanians more rights.

The alliance has already completed the second phase of its operation, collecting more than two-thirds of the rebel arsenal. Under the peace deal agreed to last month, parliament had to finish discussion of the constitutional amendments before the alliance completed the arms collection, scheduled to end Sept. 26.

That discussion has been delayed by related -- and potentially disruptive -- issues. Parliament on Tuesday discussed a call to put the issue of greater ethnic Albanian rights to a referendum, but then decided to postpone further debate until Thursday.

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