NATO plans to stay on in FYROM

NATO’s peacekeeping force in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is likely to stay on for two or three months after its mandate ends on October 26 because the EU will not be ready to take over in time, news agencies reported from Brussels yesterday. The EU’s nascent rapid reaction force had aimed to carry out its first mission in FYROM but the force’s formation has stumbled on a disagreement between Greece and Turkey. Ankara wants to have a say in how the EU will use NATO assets, while Athens disagrees and says any EU-NATO deal should state that no NATO country will threaten an EU country. The latter proposal, which was hammered out at an EU summit in Seville in June, has not been accepted by Turkey. Greece has therefore proposed that the EU take over FYROM operations on an ad hoc basis. But diplomats and officials in Brussels said that NATO would have to extend its mission. A NATO source told the AFP that «before October 26 it’s asking a lot to get the NATO force out and the EU force in.» NATO’s Operation Amber Fox, made up of 700 lightly armed soldiers, was set up a year ago to protect international monitors observing the return of government forces and displaced people to areas formerly controlled by ethnic Albanian rebels. «I think what will happen next is that Amber Fox will be extended by two or three months,» one diplomat, who requested anonymity, told Reuters. «The moment has passed where it would have been possible for the EU to take over on October 27.» A NATO official told Reuters that no decision had been made on whether to extend the alliance’s mandate and Skopje had not requested an extension. But he said military planners had been asked to look into the implications of the force staying on. «Because time is of the essence, NATO’s nations asked military planners to start looking into the implications of a possible extension,» he said. «We want to be ready to respond rapidly so we are essentially doing the preparatory work.» The diplomat said that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was working hard to get Greece and Turkey to agree on a deal. «We’re very close on the technicalities,» he said. «If only there was the political will.» (Reuters, AFP)

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