Bush foresees possible greater troop involvement in Macedonia
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush moved Wednesday to restrict the funds and mobility of ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia and left open the possibility of greater U.S. military involvement in the troubled Balkan country.
”I take no option off the table in terms of the troops,” Bush said when asked if American forces might be used to help prevent civil war in Macedonia.
Later, a U.S. official said the president’s remark, which came during a meeting with congressional Republicans, was made in the context of a NATO peacekeeping proposal for Macedonia.
The official, asking not to be identified, said the president wasn’t trying to foreshadow an aggressive military action.
Under the plan, NATO would deploy a task force to oversee the voluntary disarmament of the Albanian rebels once an agreed cease fire is in place and there is a clear commitment by armed groups to surrender their weapons.
The United States is prepared to assist the process by providing command and control, communications, medical assistance and logistical support.
Earlier, Bush issued an executive order prohibiting, effective Wednesday, U.S. citizens from having financial or other types of commercial dealings with the ethnic Albanian rebels.
He also barred their entry into the United States.
Bush told reporters he has some evidence that the ”ethnic Albanian extremists are raising money not only in America but in Europe.”
He said the United States must not be a conduit for funds used in support of extremist activities that destabilize Macedonia’s democratically-elected government.
Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer said the United States ”must face down extremists in Macedonia and elsewhere who seek to use violence to redraw borders or subvert the democratic process.”
In an incident Monday in Macedonia, a convoy of about 20 U.S.-contracted buses, protected by 81 U.S. troops and armed Humvees, transported ethnic Albanian fighters and civilians from a suburb of Macedonia’s capital to a mostly ethnic Albanian village to the north.
The move sparked rioting and shooting in the capital, Skopje, by thousands of Macedonian Slavs who demanded harsher action against the rebels and an end to outside intervention.
There are about 700 U.S. troops in Macedonia – mainly providing logistical support for the American peacekeeping forces in neighboring Kosovo – but they had not previously intervened directly in the hostilities in Macedonia.
The unsettled situation in Macedonia was highlighted on Wednesday when the U.S. Embassy in Skopje ordered up to 30 Americans to leave Macedonia following the riots, which revealed rising anti-Western sentiment.
An embassy spokeswoman said the order to evacuate some 10 non-essential embassy staff and 20 contract workers was intended to shield U.S. citizens from ethnic violence.
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the situation in Macedonia is potentially dangerous because of continuing armed clashes between Macedonian security forces and rebel forces.
Reeker noted that an earlier warning to American citizens to defer all travel to Macedonia has been updated.
He said the department suggests that U.S. citizens living in Macedonia should continue ”to review their personal security situations and exercise caution. And if appropriate, depart the country.”
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