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How arms will be 'harvested'

NATO tank
Unlike in Kosovo, the NATO force in Macedonia will be lightly equipped  


LONDON, England (CNN) -- A NATO advance staff of 400 is on its way to Macedonia to prepare the way for "Operation Essential Harvest" -- the harvest being the weapons of ethnic Albanian rebels.

The main body of the force, comprising another 3,500 troops, is due within 10 days if the cease-fire holds.

CNN's Walter Rodgers in Skopje says for both sides -- Macedonian soldiers and ethnic Albanian rebels -- the NATO troops "cannot get here soon enough."

Both sides, Rodgers reported, want to get on with disarmament but do not trust each other an inch.

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The troops in the NATO operation will be British-led, 1,000 of them in the main force from 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment (2 PARA).

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Soldiers will also be involved from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

U.S. army units will provide logistical support on the ground plus air mobility -- U.S. helicopters will ferry the NATO forces around.

The Pentagon said that the exact number of American troops that will be part of the larger contingent has not been determined. But they will be mostly support units and will be drawn largely from forces already in the area, in Kosovo and Bosnia.

British defence sources are at pains to point out that the NATO force's only purpose is to collect weapons surrendered voluntarily. It is not, they say, a disarmament force or a peacekeeping force.

It will be lightly equipped in weapons terms with no provision to suddenly transform into a peacekeeping force.

The sources say if it is met with hostility, the mission will be terminated and NATO would have to reassess what additional forces would be required to restore the operation.

An advance force of specialists is expected to be in place by the weekend.

This consists of 400 men and women, HQ and logistical staff, office staff, and translators. This "early force" has been hand-picked from various British army units and will be headed by a Brigadier.

It will sit down with the various parties in Macedonia and assess their requirements, working out a detailed plan of where the arms collections will be made.

The "main force" of 3,500 - 4,000 soldiers from a number of NATO nations is expected to be in place within 10 days.

British defence sources said the rules of engagement stipulated the NATO troops could only use force in self-defence or if the safety of the soldiers was threatened.

Arms collections are expected to be completed within 10 days with the mission finally wrapping up within the 30 day time limit agreed during peace negotiations.

Weapons collected will first be verified. If they are deemed to be unstable they will be destroyed on the spot. Otherwise the arms collected will be transported to Greece.

If there is a need for an extension on the timetable for the operation, the decision would be made by the NATO council.






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