Bush pledges support, but not troops, for Macedonia
WASHINGTON (AP) – The government is not considering sending peacekeeping troops to Macedonia in response to the ethnic Albanian insurgency in that Balkan nation, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
President Bush assured Tuesday that: ”We’re going to work with our allies to bring peace to that region.”
Pentagon and State Department officials indicated the Bush administration is not planning to expand the U.S. peacekeeping force in Kosovo, but they said a peacekeeping reserve force of about 300 British and Norwegian soldiers was recently sent to strengthen patrols of the Macedonia-Kosovo border.
”Our intentions are to continue to operate in a NATO context on the Kosovo side of the border to try to limit, as much as we can, the movement of people and equipment and weapons back and forth across that border” with Macedonia, said Rear. Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman.
On Monday, NATO secretary-general Lord Robertson said the alliance must increase its peacekeeping force in Kosovo to seal the border. Quigley, however, said there has been no request to Washington to add troops, and he would not reveal Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s views on this.
The president, after touring CIA headquarters Tuesday, told reporters: ”We’re very much involved in the NATO process. We’ll work with the Macedonian government to help Macedonia protect its own borders.”
Asked if the U.S. would consider military assistance, Bush replied: ”We’ll work with NATO to develop a strategy that will help Macedonia protect herself.”
Rumsfeld is due to meet Wednesday at the Pentagon with British Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon to discuss Macedonia and other issues.
Quigley said that on Feb. 26 a contingent of about 150 U.S. troops in Kosovo were moved closer to the unmarked Macedonia border, bringing to 300 the number of American peacekeepers in that area.
”They have continued to man checkpoints, to inspect vehicles, to watch for the movement of people going north or south, to look for weapons caches, interdict contraband of all kinds, and to patrol, visibly, that border area to try to reduce the movement of people and equipment north and south,” he said.
Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said the United States and its NATO allies are ”looking at ways to provide additional immediate support to the Macedonian government,” including unspecified additional military assistance.
Boucher said U.S. assistance to Macedonia this year will total $33 million, including $13.5 million in military aid.
”We are ourselves looking at ways that we might continue the assistance and expand that assistance,” Boucher said.
There are about 400 U.S. troops inside Macedonia, at Camp Able Sentry, outside of the capital of Skopje. They are not on peacekeeping duty but are providing logistical support for the U.S.-led peacekeeping contingent in southeastern Kosovo.
The Kosovo peacekeeping effort began in June 1999 after a NATO-led bombing campaign forced the Serb army to withdraw from Kosovo and permit ethnic Albanian refugees to return to their homes.
Wesley Clark, the retired Army general who was commander of NATO forces during the Kosovo air campaign, wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Tuesday that ”the nub of the problem” in Macedonia today is the delay in determining the final status of Kosovo, which was a province of Serbia and has made scant progress toward democratic self rule since the war ended in 1999.
Clark said the ethnic Albanian insurgency in Macedonia is an ominous sign of ”a new wave of Balkan conflict.” He urged the NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo to do more to interdict the flow of arms and fighters across the border, and he said the Macedonian government should move quickly to address the constitutional status of its ethnic Albanian population, which complains of second-class status.
”Instead of reinforcing the need for NATO’s presence, the streams of fighters out of Kosovo hearten those who say Kosovo does not deserve NATO and especially U.S. protection,” he wrote.
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