The Macedonian government indicated today that it will approve the proposed deployment here of 14,000 additional NATO troops if the Western alliance starts paying for the wear and tear on local facilities and reiterates a pledge that the troops will have only defensive or peacekeeping responsibilities.
Foreign Minister Aleksandar Dimitrov said NATO's request would be reviewed by the government next week and suggested that the only major issue would be an agreement on "appropriate financial arrangements."
The added troops would bring the total to 30,000 here, on Kosovo's southern border. Albania would host another 15,000 to 20,000 troops under the new NATO plan.
NATO officials already have said the additional soldiers are needed to augment the force of 16,000 British, French and Italian soldiers here who are waiting to be sent into Kosovo in the event an agreement is reached between the Western alliance and the Yugoslav government to end the conflict over Kosovo, Serbia's southern province. But NATO officials have left open the possibility that the troops might be called on to enter Kosovo and protect returning ethnic Albanian refugees even without a peace deal.
Accepting additional troops would require a vote by the Macedonian parliament, which already has passed a resolution barring NATO forces from using the country for offensive activities. Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev declined to answer when asked today whether the government might decide differently if the war were prolonged.
"We believe that a peaceful resolution will be reached and that NATO troops will be used for their peacekeeping mission," Kljusev told reporters. "We have had no problems with the NATO troops stationed here."
One reason the issue of compensation looms so large is that the Macedonian economy, which depended heavily on trade with Yugoslavia, has suffered losses estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars since the war began. Unemployment has risen and many large businesses have been shut because they lack access to raw materials or markets.
Of $260 million in aid promised to Macedonia recently at a foreign donors conference, only $10 million has actually arrived, Dimitrov said. "Our budget is almost exhausted" from caring for an estimated 270,000 ethnic Albanian refugees who have fled here from Kosovo, he said.
But some Western diplomats have privately accused Macedonia of exaggerating both the number of refugees and the extent of damage they have caused the local economy.
The U.N. refugee agency estimates the total number of refugees here as being closer to 220,000. Moreover, many aid agencies have begun buying local products, and prices for some commodities have risen sharply.