U.S. Troops to Follow in Footsteps of Ancient Armies With AM-Yugoslavia
SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) _ U.S. troops deployed in this former Yugoslav republic will be following in the footsteps of ancient legions who fought to control its plains and plateaus ringed by volcanic mountains.
But unlike the Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians, Turks, Austrians and Serbs, these warriors may bring some security.
On Thursday, the Clinton administration said it would dispatch 300 soldiers to join a 700-member Scandinavian U.N. battalion stationed on Macedonia’s border with Serbia. It had previously opposed sending ground troops.
The deployment is to prevent wars in former Yugoslavia from spilling into Macedonia, which has only 20,000 soldiers. A war here risks drawing in other neighboring states, such as Bulgaria and NATO members Greece and Turkey.
″We are delighted with the arrival of U.S. troops,″ said Sasa Jovanovski, 28, a television technician in the capital Skopje. ″This little state ... is threatened from all sides.″
Gen. Finn Tomsen, the Danish U.N. commander in Macedonia, was quoted by Skopje’s daily Vecer newspaper as saying the U.S. deployment was not strictly necessary from a military standpoint, but that it could help politically.
The United States has said it wants to send a message that fighting farther north should not spread to Macedonia.
Tomsen was quoted as saying the additional soldiers would make the peacekeeping operation in Macedonia ″more efficient.″
The U.S. contingent will be its first in former Yugoslavia, apart from a 320-member U.S. military field hospital in Croatia. Pentagon spokesman Bob Hall said Thursday the troops could be deployed this week.
Invaders of ancient times came looking for riches in the land of Alexander the Great’s father, Philip. Macedonian gold, from the sands of the Kratovo and Zletovo rivers, was one of the treasures of the Ottoman Turks, who ruled the area for 500 years.
But constant wars and rivalries brought about decline. The landlocked nation, only slightly larger than Vermont, is now one of Europe’s poorest.
Tension already exists between Macedonia and Greece over Macedonia’s name, because Greece has a province of the same name. There is also the possibility of aggression from Serbia, which has fomented the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Serbs and ethnic Albanians are already locked in a standoff in Serbia’s Kosovo province that some fear could erupt into open warfare.
Macedonia’s ethnic Albanians - a quarter of its 2 million people - would likely join any fighting in support of their ethnic kin.
Tomsen’s troops have patroled Macedonia’s northwestern borders with Serbia and Albania since January in an attempt to forestall any potential intrusion.
Macedonia’s rugged terrain doesn’t make their task any easier.
Many towns, with their characteristic Turkish-style architecture, nestle inside extinct craters ringed by mountains that rise to 8,000 feet. Some summits are dominated by the remains of ancient fortresses.
Summers are scorching, and the Vardar River which runs through the central valley is frequently reduced to a trickle.
The economy is in precarious condition. Many Macedonians are forced to become migrant workers abroad.
The break-up of Yugoslavia and U.N. sanctions imposed against traditional trading partners Serbia and Montenegro, the two remaining republics in Yugoslavia, have been additional strains.
″We are also mindful that the troops will be bringing with them a much- needed item - foreign currency,″ said Stojan Andonov, a Skopje economist.