The European Union formally agreed to take over NATO's peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia on March 31, a move which will mark the bloc's military debut - even though it's only 320 soldiers and 80 civilians for six months. This may not be an easy test of the EU's militaries ability to cooperate.
The day before, there was a pre-dawn (4.50 AM) explosion on an international railroad in northern Macedonia's Kumanovo, a town close to the country's northern border with Serbia. No one was injured as the local train passed by just minutes before the blast, which caused only minor damage to the tracks between Kumanovo and the border crossing of Tabanovci (35 kilometers northeast of the capital, Skopje). Police in Kumanovo were investigating the incident.
Also on the 17th, NATO announced that on March 31 it will end Operation Allied Harmony in Macedonia. Citing "considerable progress" achieved in restoring stability, NATO plans to leave maintain a Senior Civilian Representative and a Senior Military Representative in Skopje. The EU-led operation's force commander will be co-located in Skopje, with the NATO Senior Military Representative.
The EU is also planning to set up a 60,000 man Rapid Reaction Force for crisis management operations within and beyond its borders and also hopes to take over NATO's Bosnia peacekeeping mission in early 2004. - Adam Geibel