Belgrade urges crackdown on Albanian rebels

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Senior Belgrade officials urged the international community yesterday to act quickly to curb an ethnic Albanian rebellion in southern Serbia after three Serb policemen were killed by an explosion caused by two anti-tank mines near the Kosovo border.

Senior Belgrade officials urged the international community yesterday to act quickly to curb an ethnic Albanian rebellion in southern Serbia after three Serb policemen were killed by an explosion caused by two anti-tank mines near the Kosovo border.

The incident came just two days after a huge bomb blew up a bus near Podujevo, 25 miles northeast of Pristina, killing seven Serbs and injuring 43 as they travelled to visit the graves of their relatives in Kosovo. The convoy was being escorted by KFOR international troops.

The Serb police who were killed yesterday were carrying food to a police checkpoint near the village of Lucane, 170 miles southeast of Belgrade. The village is just 200 yards outside a buffer zone between Kosovo and Serbia created after the 1999 NATO bombing campaign. Albanian militants in recent months have been launching strikes against Serbs from inside the three-mile buffer zone.

"It's high time that the international community shifted from verbal support to concrete support," Zoran Zivkovic, the Yugoslav Interior Minister, said yesterday. "This was obviously a criminal act of terrorists who do not want a peaceful solution".

Unlike the government of the ousted president, Slobodan Milosevic, the new Belgrade administration has shown restraint in dealing with the rebellion of ethnic Albanians that has been simmering for months in southern Serbia.

Hundreds of members of the self-proclaimed Liberation Army of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medveja (UCPMB) have managed to infiltrate the buffer zone, despite monitoring by KFOR troops on the Kosovo side of the boundary with Serbia.

The organisation is named after the three villages that launched the rebellion against Belgrade in a bid to unite the area with Kosovo, whose population is dominated by ethnic Albanians. The UCPMB denied any knowledge of the incident. But a statement issued by the UCPMB guerrillas said they condemned Friday's bomb attack on the bus.

"This act damages the peace process which is going on in the Presevo Valley," said the statement signed by Shefket Musliu, guerrilla commander.

Belgrade has proposed a peace plan for the area. Nebojsa Covic, the government co-ordinator for southern Serbia, presented it to NATO and OSCE officials last week during talks in Brussels and Vienna.

"The international community has to make quick and concrete decisions," Mr Covic said yesterday. "The incident in Lucane shows that the wave of violence and terrorism (by ethnic Albanians) has started ... This is closely related to what happened in Kosovo two days ago."

The commander of the British peacekeepers in the region agreed that the bus bombing testified to the reluctance of the Kosovo militants to negotiate with the Serbian government or anyone else on the Belgrade peace plan.

"It is clear that with the submission of the Covic peace plan in Brussels, it's time for significant political developments, and I think that the terrorists the other day were trying to send a message to several constituencies at once," Brigadier Rob Fry said.

Macedonia has put its troops on alert along the border with Kosovo due to the increased violence, the defence ministry said. The Macedonian government fears a spillover of armed rebellion over its borders. A significant ethnic Albanian minority lives in Macedonia.

A team from Macedonia's A1 television was taken hostage for several hours on Friday in the region bordering Kosovo. A journalist said they had been held by men carrying weapons bearing the initials UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army).

Comments