NATO's Month in Macedonia

NATO troops are heading into Macedonia on a mission that's not so clear-cut as the marching orders indicate. The goal is to collect arms being turned over by Albanian rebels who've agreed to a peace deal. The job is supposed to be wrapped up in a month; then the 3,500-man British-led force can exit.

Would that it were so simple in the Balkans! This latest peacemaking enterprise - like earlier ones in Bosnia and Kosovo - hinges on the readiness of competing ethnic groups to live together in peace. Earlier in its short history of independence, Macedonia seemed to be doing relatively well at maintaining multiethnic harmony. But the upheaval in neighboring Kosovo, with its inflammation of Albanian nationalism, spilled over.

Macedonia's Albanian rebels say they're fighting for minority rights, such as official recognition of their language. The peace accord, mediated by NATO and EU diplomats, endorses such rights. If the Macedonian parliament passes new laws, that issue should be settled. Likewise, if the rebels turn over a significant number of arms, trust should grow.

For all its might and expanding Balkans mandate, NATO can't guarantee trust. Yet that's the critical ingredient.

This European-led mission is the latest attempt to have regional powers deal with a regional conflict - with the US in the background and the United Nations on the sidelines. Such a regional role worked in East Timor. It could well work in Macedonia.

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