On September 25, one day earlier than planned, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson announced that NATO had exceeded its objective of collecting 3,300 weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Labeled “Operation Essential Harvest,” the NATO mission began August 27 and officially ended September 26. NATO claims that during that period it collected 3,875 weapons, including 3,210 assault rifles and a total of four tanks and armored personnel carriers, as well as 397,625 mines, explosives, and ammunition from the rebels, who voluntarily handed over their weapons. The rebels and Macedonian troops had been battling each other since early this year.
NATO military officers in charge of the mission told reporters September 26 that the weapons turned in were of good quality and implied that the sum collected would substantially diminish the rebel’s military capabilities. The officers’ remarks were presumably aimed at dismissing criticism by some Macedonians that the rebels turned in decrepit, outdated weapons and that the total collected represented only a small portion of rebel-owned arms.
In exchange for the rebels voluntarily giving up their weapons, the Macedonian parliament is soon expected to pass reforms granting greater rights to ethnic Albanians, although it has been dragging its feet. Visiting Macedonia September 25, Robertson noted that the political process is “still incomplete” and called upon the parliament to act, warning that, if it failed to do so, the country risked “the bleak prospect of descent into a civil war.”