A peacekeeping operation launched by NATO on August 27, 2001 and was concluded on September 26, 2001. The primary goal was to peacefully collect and destroy weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia and establish stability in the country. Approximately 3,500 British lead NATO troops were sent to this the southernmost former-Yugoslav Republic including some 600 Americans. The mission concentrated around the cities of Kumanovo and Tetovo, the areas of highest guerrilla activity in the north of the country.

The NATO troops were invited by the Macedonian government to ensure that the ethnic Albanian rebels fulfilled their part of a peace deal. NATO agreed to send troops under the sole condition that the political dialogue between the various parties in the former-Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had a successful outcome and that a cease-fire was respected. In exchange for disarming, the government has agreed to ratify amendments to the constitution giving the country's ethnic Albanians more rights.

It was not expected that the rebel army, the so-called “National Liberation Army”(NLA), would hand over most or the best of their weapons, but it is hoped to serve as a confidence-building measure during the fragile post-agreement period. It is hoped that Operation Essential Harvest would lead to a de-escalation of ethnic and religious strife in Macedonia, which was on the verge of civil war earlier in 2001. The situation in Macedonia has indeed cooled off and Essential Harvest was deemed a success with NATO collecting more than the intial goal of 3,300 weapons.

Despite all the progress being made towards ending this conflict, there are still some troubles simmering under the surface. The majority ethnic Macedonians are strongly against giving the ethnic Albanians more rights. There is also no guarantee that the NLA will disarm appreciably or that they will continue in their cooperation in peace talks. A manifestation of this tenuous situation was the killing of a British solider on August 27th. Ian Collins, 20, was one of Britain’s Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers and died after being hit by a block of concrete in the capital, Skopje. The block was thrown from an overpass onto the armored vehicle he was driving.

Macedonia is a volatile country that doesn’t get much attention among Americans or the American press. With the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 and the resulting shift of the United State’s attention toward a war on terrorists world wide, many Muslims in the Balkans fear that they will fall off the edge of the west’s attention even further. With the west diverted, it is feared that their enemies will gain the upper hand.

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