At the end of the first day of a controversial weapons collection mission in Macedonia, NATO officials declared it a success — even though it was marred by the killing of a British soldier near the capital of Skopje.
NATO officials confirmed that Ian Collins, 20, of Britain's 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, died today after being hit by a concrete or similar object thrown through the windshield of the armored vehicle he was driving on a road south of Skopje on Sunday evening.
He was taken to the U.S. Army's Base in Macedonia, Camp Able Sentry, and then on to the U.S. hospital at Camp Bondsteel in nearby Kosovo, but later transferred to the neurological unit of a Skopje hospital, where he died nearly nine hours after the incident.
The killing, however, did not hamper the start of NATO's 30-day "Operation Essential Harvest" today.
"This regrettable incident will not effect the resolve of Task Force Harvest to complete the mission," Brig. Barney White-Spunner, the top-ranking British commander, said in a statement.
A spokesman for the British Ministry of Defense said it was not known if the youths involved in the attack were Macedonian or ethnic Albanian.
‘A Success’ Gets Under Way
Amid sporadic bursts of gunfire in the region, NATO troops today tallied about 400 weapons, said NATO officials.
NATO officials said the haul included some 300 Kalashnikovs as well as heavy machine guns, land mines and mortars.
Despite fears that only old weapons would be surrendered, British Maj. Alexander Dick told reporters there were a number of new weapons.
"We've gathered in a good number of weapons here but, more importantly, some big stuff," he said. "It's pleasing to see that some of it is in very good condition, practically new."
NATO aims to collect 3,300 weapons before it declares Operation Essential Harvest a success. But the Macedonian government has alleged that the rebels possess an arsenal of at least 70,000 arms.
Although Operation Essential Harvest has been largely welcomed by the ethnic Albanian population, hard-liners in the Macedonian government have dismissed NATO's plan to gather weapons. ABCNEWS' London bureau contributed to this report.