August 19, 2001


Assessment of the Risks Inherent to the Weapons Collection Plan for Macedonia

  Otfried Nassauer

NATO will only collect and dispose of weapons which are handed in deliberately. It will neither conduct searches for weapons nor forcefully disarm persons holding weapons in situations other than being attacked or threatened by attack. It will collect weapons from the UCK but not from other armed Albanian militias.

There are several risks inherent to the weapons collection process:

  1. Firstly, concerning how much needs to be collected. Initial NLA estimates made available to NATO’s special representative Pieter Feith refer to 2.300 weapons to be handed in. Final numbers, types of weapon and other details still need to be determined. In contrast, the Macedonian government claims there to be 8.000 UCK-fighters and other armed Albanians, insinuating that a minimum of 8.000 weapons need to be collected. Somewhat under pressure from Western governments the Ministry of Defense specified that it accounted for 2.000 UCK rebels and 6.000 other armed personnel. Conversely, the Ministry of the Interior referred to 6.000 UCK rebels plus 2.000 other armed personnel. Western intelligence sources have accounted for 3.500-4.500 UCK rebels during recent weeks. A more realistic estimate for what needs to be collected in order to effectively disarm the UCK is between 7.000 and 12.000 weapons - given that rebel armies seldom arm their soldiers with less than one weapon and in most cases with two to three. This remains true even if NATO’s commanding General Lange is correct in assuming that total disarmament is an unrealistic goal.

  2. Second, is the issue of what needs to be collected. Certainly assault and sniper rifles, submachine-guns, machine-guns, anti-tank weapons, mortars, artillery pieces, landmines, rockets and grenade launchers plus ammunition. Also likely is the collection of a limited number of air defense weapons and possibly a few armored vehicles. It would also be prudent to collect night vision equipment and other advanced military gear. However, it is unlikely that pistols and hunting rifles will be collected, as they are part of the local weapons culture.

  3. Third, is the question of where the weapons will be collected. NATO will set up rotational collection points in five geographic areas which will each open three times. In addition it will be possible to hand in weapons to KFOR patrols along the Kosovo-Macedonian border. This latter arrangement raises the question of how seriously to take denials that the Kosovo-Albanian UCK or the KPC support(ed) the Macedonian-Albanian UCK.

  4. Fourth, is the issue of who is going to be disarmed. NATO’s commander, General Lange, claims that only the UCK and not other armed groups of Albanians, will be disarmed. At least one such group exists, the Albanian National Army ANA or AKSh, which wants to continue the fight for a Greater Albania. At the time of writing it is still unclear as to how strong the ANA is militarily. The rebel group has two options: It can decide to continue fighting while NATO disarms the UCK and thus endanger the peace process (with the possibility of attacks on NATO) or it can wait until NATO’s Task Force Harvest (TFH) has left the country and then again take up the fight against the Macedonian government forces.

Thus what are the options for UCK-fighters? In principle fighters and/or UCK-units can opt

a) to withdraw to Kosovo, handing in their weapons at the border or even hoping to avoid disarmament, cf. the situation with the UCPMB in Southern Serbia;

b) declaring itself part of the ANA/AKSh or future additional groups, which have not agreed to the disarmament and intend to continue fighting,

c) to hide their weapons for an unknown future

d) or disarm according to the agreement.

While the political leadership of the Macedonian UCK has agreed to disarm and currently seems to be serious about this commitment, it remains unclear what individual fighters, commanders and units will do. ANA has asked them to join its ranks. It remains to be seen what percentage of fighters will pursue each path. Finally, it also remains unclear as to whether the ANA leadership has personal links to the UCK-leadership or any parts of it. ANA’s attack on a Macedonian military convoy driving from Skopje to Tetovo was said to be conducted in cooperation with UCK-units. The latter aspect is of great importance, since the UCK has a strong organisational hierarchy yet at times pretends to have vertical structures of authority and thus argues it can not issue strict orders to all of its fighters.

In addition, there is the major problem of the security of ethnic Macedonians in areas that are controlled by the UCK during the process. Macedonia’s Slavic citizens may feel exposed to a risk of ethnic cleansing as the Macedonian security forces are required to withdraw to their barracks during phase one of the operation, while NATO forces are still in the process of deployment. Their situation might improve somewhat thereafter with Task Force Harvest (TFH) showing up and requiring the UCK to hand in weapons. However, such improvement would only occur if the Rules of Engagement for TFH include the use of force in protection of Macedonian civilians. From our perspective, this is unlikely to happen.

The risks described in this brief analysis lead us to the following conclusions:

  • It is far from clear that TFH will be able to conduct its mission within 30-45 days as envisaged. A prolonged deployment is likely.
  • The operation as currently planned can lead to two possible situations:

    a) partial disarmament, which bears the potential risk of future escalation, or

  • b) the need to upgrade the TFH mandate. This would involve expanding the body’s tasks, strengthening the rules of engagement as well as increasing the number of troops. These improvements to the TFH’s role should be made as soon as possible to avoid a loss of TFH’s credibility; ideally prior to the deployment of NATO’s full contingent

  • As a general requirement, TFH should carefully avoid any impression of positioning itself between Macedonian and Albanian controlled territories.










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