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Weapons Collections Begin Despite Killing

The British soldier, part of the 3,500-member force sent to disarm the rebels, was killed when youths threw a block of concrete at his armored vehicle in the capital of Skopje.

NATO officials said the soldier, 20-year-old Ian Collins, suffered severe head injuries and died at a local hospital.

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski condemned the violence and said his country remained committed to cooperating with the troops.

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson called the attack “absurd,” but added it would in no way impede efforts to bring peace to the region.

“I deplore this deliberate act of violence which is absurd considering that NATO troops are in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to assist the people and the government of that country,” Robertson said Monday. “Isolated irresponsible acts of violence will in no way succeed in compromising the stabilization process engaged in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.”

Within hours of the soldier’s death, French and American helicopters headed north to the outskirts of Kumanovo for the first weapons collection mission.

According to the Associated Press, NATO troops collected some 300 weapons there in a process described by one official as “smooth.”

NATO plans to collect 3,300 weapons during the next thirty days.

The number of weapons ethnic Albanians control remains one of the major points of contention. Macedonian Premier Ljubco Georgievski has called the 3,300 figure “ridiculous and humiliating,” claiming the rebels have closer to 60,000 weapons.

The Macedonian parliament is set to consider pro-Albanian reforms once a third of the weapons are in NATO hands. This timetable, a part of the peace deal that led to NATO’s presence, may be in jeopardy if government officials demand rebels turn over more weapons.

“There are no guarantees and the path will not be easy and the alternative is clear,” Maj. Gen. Gunnar Lange, the military commander of Operation Essential Harvest. “The alternative is war.”

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