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Q&A: NATO troops in Macedonia

British troops set off
British troops board a C17 transport plane to join the NATO vanguard force  

SKOPJE, Macedonia (CNN) -- CNN's Senior International Correspondent Walter Rodgers looks at the prospects for NATO's arms collection operation.

Q: Can NATO's full mission be completed within 30 days?

A: The last thing NATO wants is to get trapped into an open-ended troop commitment in Macedonia.

Even though NATO says it only wants to send in troops for a very narrowly defined mission, specifically, collecting guerrilla weapons, the great foreboding and fear among NATO officials is that somehow the 30-day commitment might have to be extended.

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What role should NATO troops play in Macedonia?

They should engage in the fighting on the government side
They should merely collect weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels
They should not be there at all
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Q: What is the feeling among the NATO soldiers in Macedonia right now and what are their immediate tasks?

A: The advance troops cannot currently estimate the duration of their mission. Their immediate assignment is to meet Macedonian military figures and the ethnic Albanian guerrilla leaders to obtain guarantees of a durable cease-fire.

Secondly, they are negotiating collecting points at which the guerrillas would turn in whatever weapons they voluntarily opt to forfeit.

Additionally of course the advance British-led multi-national units are assessing the situation on the ground to see if it is safe to bring in 3,000 more NATO soldiers.

Q: How would NATO verify that the rebels have handed over all their arms?

A: This is largely a good faith operation. The question is how many weapons the guerrillas will turn in.

Current NATO estimates are that they expect between 2,300 to 3,000 weapons to be handed in, mostly rifles. The Macedonian government says the guerrillas have upwards of 6,000 weapons.

But Western military analysts admit there are some "extraordinary" blind spots in their intelligence.

I think what they are going to do is see how many weapons come in and consider if those weapons handed over are sufficient to stabilise the situation.

No one expects every guerrilla weapon to be turned in -- NATO has said as much.

Q: How does the current NATO mission compare with others such as SFOR (Bosnia-Herzegovina) and KFOR (Kosovo)?

A: This is radically different from previous NATO missions in the Balkans. As currently conceived the duration of the mission will only be 30 days.

Its marching orders are only to collect weapons voluntarily surrendered by the guerrillas -- no peacekeeping, no forced disarmament, no green line buffer between the two sides in the conflict.

Finally this is more truly a multi-national operation than previous international monitoring efforts such as in Sarajevo and subsequently Kosovo.

Q: How high are NATO's hopes of success?

A: NATO has reasonable hopes for the success of this mission, because unlike other efforts in the Balkans it has come in early before the bloodshed gets out of hand.

So far on a relative scale the casualties in Macedonia have been low -- less than 250 on both sides combined.

• Macedonian government
• UK Ministry of Defence
• National Liberation Army

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