Reuters, October 12, 2002
NATO awaits Dutch nod to extend Macedonia mission
BRUSSELS, Oct 11 (Reuters) - NATO has agreed in principle to extend its peacekeeping mission in Macedonia but is waiting for the Netherlands to confirm that it will continue to lead the force, an alliance official said on Friday.
"The Dutch decided at the last moment that they would formalise it," said the official. "NATO agreed to extend its mission, subject to the Dutch agreeing to extend."
Diplomats said there was some irritation with the Netherlands for announcing that it needed approval from parliament to extend until mid-December its command of Operation Amber Fox, which had been due to end on October 26.
Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski formally asked NATO this week to keep the operation alive until December 15 even though the security situation had improved dramatically.
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.
One diplomat, who asked not to be named, said the Netherlands has tightened its procedure for participation in peacekeeping tasks, partly due to a damning report on its ill-fated Srebrenica mission during the Bosnian war.
"Srebrenica is not the direct cause, but of course it does play a role," the diplomat said.
The Dutch government resigned in April -- shortly before a general election -- after the report condemned politicians and the military for sending troops to Srebrenica in 1995 on what it said was an impossible mission.
Dutch troops were unable to defend the enclave, leading to the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serb forces.
The European Union had hoped to take over Amber Fox from NATO at the end of October, which would have marked a debut in peacekeeping operations for its fledgling Rapid Reaction Force.
But its plans were scuppered by a standoff between arch-rivals Greece and Turkey on a deal guaranteeing the 15-nation bloc access to NATO planning, intelligence and logistics for crisis management operations.
Officials say the NATO-EU deal is now in sight and may be announced at an alliance summit in Prague next month, opening the way for the EU to take over in Macedonia after December 15.
Trajkovski's special representative told Reuters in Brussels last week that Task Force Fox should be replaced at the end of the year by a mostly civilian team for "regional integration".
A NATO diplomat said the United States wanted to bring a curtain down on the alliance's involvement in Macedonia, but some countries in the 19-nation alliance are keen to keep some NATO presence there after Operation Amber Fox ends.
"There's a general sense that NATO needs to stay around in some form," he said. "Macedonia is a NATO aspirant so we need a package to ensure stability."