Updated: 31-Aug-2001 NATO Speeches

former Yugoslav
Republic of
Macedonia (1)
29 August 2001

Address to Parliamentary Party Leaders

by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Ladies and gentlemen,

My visit in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1) today coincides with a critical stage in the peace process as you are about to start your deliberations on the political agreement. This process was initiated by President Trajkovski and the government to overcome the crisis in this country. NATO and the European Union have been firmly supportive of the Government and the country in moving the process forward and bring back stability to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1).

The leaders of the broad coalition government, with the support of Parliament, made a decisive step on 13th August when they signed the political Framework Document that sets out essential reforms, laying out the blueprint for a prosperous and peaceful future for all of Macedonian citizens. This agreement must be implemented and your role in this regard is crucial.

The political process cannot succeed without an ending of political violence, hence President Trajkovski's request for NATO assistance in weapons collection from the armed rebels, which must run parallel to that political process. The Alliance has responded quickly and positively and I believe that Operation "Essential Harvest" will make a very real contribution to enhancing your country's stability and sovereignty.

The decision to deploy over 3,500 troops to collect weapons from the ethnic Albanian armed groups underscores NATO's strong commitment to your country. We are aware that there are risks involved in this operation, and the tragic death of a British soldier on Sunday night was a cruel reminder of this, but the determination of the Alliance to see this operation through is absolute. Let me underline a simple fact: NATO is here to help. We have no other agenda than helping this country to regain its stability. Allegations that NATO or the international community have hidden agendas are false and spread by warmongers who wrongly believe that war is a credible alternative to a political agreement.

I believe it is worth recalling some of the events which led to the deployment of Task Force Harvest. On 14 June, I received a letter from President Trajkovski asking for NATO's assistance. NATO immediately responded, and within a week we produced a draft plan for the collection of weapons from the ethnic Albanian armed groups.

NATO set four pre-conditions for the deployment to be launched, because we felt our mission could not otherwise succeed. Firstly, a political agreement signed by the political party leaders in the broad coalition government; secondly, a Status of Forces Agreement with your authorities and agreed conditions for Task Force Harvest; thirdly, an agreed plan for weapons collection, including an explicit agreement by the so-called NLA to disarm; and lastly, an enduring cease-fire.

In the period that followed, these pre-conditions were gradually put in place. At the request of President Trajkovski and Prime Minister Georgievski, my Personal Representative, Mr Feith, has worked to facilitate both a cease-fire and a clear commitment by the so-called NLA to disarm and disband. He has always worked in full co-operation with the government, and without him I do not believe the so-called NLA would be voluntarily disarming. His diplomatic skills have saved the lives of many of your soldiers and policemen. The plan for weapons collection was developed and discussed with your authorities. Finally, the political Framework Document concluded at Ohrid was signed by the political leaders in Skopje on 13 August.

Following that agreement, NATO moved very fast. On August 15 the North Atlantic Council authorised the immediate deployment of the Headquarters of Task Force Harvest, and Major General Lange, already serving as NATO Senior Military Representative in Skopje, was appointed as its Commander. A group of 400 British, Czech and French soldiers, arrived within 48 hours after the North Atlantic Council decision.

On 22 August, as the cease-fire gradually took hold and in order to build upon the momentum towards peace and stability, the North Atlantic Council authorised the deployment of the whole Task Force to start collecting and destroying arms and ammunition handed over by the insurgents. Over 90% of the Task Force personnel have deployed to date. Fourteen NATO nations have contributed troops.

Under our original plans we should have taken 10 to 15 days to deploy and prepare, but in fact on 27 August, just five days after deployment began the Task Force started its operations to collect the weapons. I think the speed we have moved shows just how determined we are to help.

I know the issue of weapon numbers is controversial. First of all let me say NATO is not here, nor have we been asked, to collect every illegally held weapon in Macedonia. Sadly your country had huge numbers of illegal weapons before the so-called NLA existed and will still have large numbers after they disband. What was different about the so-called NLA was that they used their guns for political ends, and it is those voluntarily surrendered weapons we are now collecting - helping take the gun out of Macedonian politics.

The NLA have committed to surrender 3,300 weapons. In addition, we expect to collect 600 mines, hand grenades and explosives, 1,100 rounds of ammunition for mortars and other support weapons and 110,000 rounds of small arms ammunition. These numbers are very close to NATO's intelligence estimates regarding their holdings. Moreover, these figures would be higher if coupled with the 2000 weapons and almost 150,000 rounds of ammunition already seized by KFOR in Kosovo. I know you will have heard other very much higher figures, but I have to be quite blunt and say we believe our estimates are right.

I would like to stress two additional points. Firstly, it is not only the quantity but also the quality of weapons that is important. Judging by the first days of the operation, we believe that the so-called NLA is delivering its promise on both accounts. In just three days, weapons have been collected from the disarming ethnic Albanian armed groups in the areas of Kumanovo, Tetovo and Debar. These include assault rifles, light and heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenade launchers, mines, mortars, anti-tank weaponry, anti-tank mine-launchers, bombs and ammunition.

Secondly, once these weapons and ammunition are collected and destroyed, the so-called NLA will have been disarmed as an organisation and will disband. This will be a major step in restoring your country's stability and return to normalcy. Without the so-called NLA operating using violence for political purposes you have the chance to safeguard your democratic institutions, to work towards reconciliation and to rebuild your country. In order for peace and stability to flourish, tanks and guns must be silenced. I note that the proliferation of paramilitaries is a negative development and undermines our collective efforts to stop the violence that plagues this country.

The operation has been prepared and is being conducted in close co-operation and co-ordination with your authorities. We have fully briefed them of our plans and have taken into account their concerns in the preparation phase. They are being provided with full updates as the operation continues.

We are also firmly committed to providing maximum openness regarding the conduct of the operation, of course within operational and security requirements. We have nothing to hide and want you to see what is going on. In that spirit, Members of the Parliament observed the first two days of the operation. The media are also present on a regular basis. This is the beginning of the process and the Task Force is reviewing the procedures of the observation as it continues.

The operation has made a successful start and I expect the Commander of Task Force Harvest to be in a position to notify President Trajkovski that one third of the weapons have been collected, in time for the start of your first parliamentary hearing.

The next step in the operation will be the destruction of the one third of weapons collected so far. The collection effort will resume in two more rounds in the same areas. This will be undertaken in parallel to the parliamentary work. The Task Force Commander will notify President Trajkovski at the completion of each step, that is when the two thirds and the final third of the weapons have been collected.

Task Force Harvest will then leave your country at the end of the weapons collection process, that is 30 days after the starting of the operation. I am convinced that the successful completion of the operation will have led to the disbandment of the so-called NLA and thereby the removal of a major threat to your country's stability. A better future will beckon.

Let me stress again that Operation "Essential Harvest" is very much a part of the overall peace process. It is just one element of the peace plan proposed by President Trajkovski last June. But it is a key element, and overall success is dependent on each individual part working. The weapons collection process will run broadly parallel to the process of the adoption by the Parliament of the constitutional changes agreed by the governmental party leaders within the Framework Document.

This parliamentary action is critical to the peace process. You, as the political party leaders, have an essential role to play in that regard. I understand that the Speaker of the Parliament, Mr Andov, intends to hold the first two votes required in the Parliament during the weapons collection process and the third and final one within three days of the conclusion of that process.

The mission of Task Force Harvest is thus complementary to the political process of restoring peace and stability while at the same time raising the standard of civil rights and freedoms in your country. The political reforms contained within the framework document will also better prepare you for further integration into the European mainstream.

NATO is playing its part in creating the opportunity for a better future and avoiding a major bloodbath, destruction, misery and poverty. At the end, every citizen of this country wins. You are about to accomplish something remarkable: solving a difficult situation in a peaceful way. This is an accomplishment to be proud of. This is a way of democracy and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1) is showing the way.

But it is up to you and all the people of Macedonia (1) to seize that opportunity. The achievement of this goal is ultimately in your hands. Only you, the legitimate, democratically elected representatives of the people, can complete the peace process.

The implementation of these reforms and a genuine process of reconciliation will be essential in the following period. This means for all people in your country learning to live together again. You are on the brink of civil war, but have just stepped back from the abyss. By voluntarily giving up their weapons the so-called NLA are showing they want to be part of the new Macedonia (1). The offer of amnesty was a truly wise decision, because it gave the so-called NLA the chance to lay down their weapons in safety. It would be a pity if the hopes of a whole nation were shattered by the irresponsible acts of a few extremists once the NATO mission is completed.

In concluding, let me emphasize the fact that today there is no other choice than to move the political process forward. The example you set, and the leadership you show will be decisive for the future of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1). I strongly believe that your people and your country deserve a bright future of enhanced stability, peace and prosperity. I am convinced that your country will soon regain its status as a model for a functioning, multi-ethnic democracy. The peace plan proposed by President Trajkovski and the peace process underway with the assistance of the international community is the way to achieve these objectives. Your important work in the Parliament in the coming weeks, as well as your continued support for the process, is critical. This is your hour, and I know you will rise to the challenges ahead. I wish you good luck.

Additional information:
  1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.

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