Kosovo Albanians warn off Kostunica

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The Independent Online

Kosovo's majority Albanian community expressed concern yesterday about Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's call for Serbia to recover sovereignty over Kosovo.

Kosovo's majority Albanian community expressed concern yesterday about Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's call for Serbia to recover sovereignty over Kosovo.

In his inaugural speech to parliament on Saturday, Mr Kostunica said Kosovo should be brought "more under our sovereignty". The province is under UN administration.

A former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) official, Jakup Krasniqi, said Mr Kostunica risked the same fate as his ousted predecessor Slobodan Milosevic if he did not abandon nationalist politics. "In Belgrade they are again playing the nationalist card, but every attempt of the new-elected president to return Kosovo to Serbia will be a final defeat of Serbian nationalism," he said. Mr Krasniqi was once spokesman for the officially disbanded KLA and is now general secretary of the Democratic Party of Kosovo.

The former KLA leader Hashim Thaci, who now heads the Democratic Party, stressed yesterday in interviews with two Swiss newspapers that the Kosovo Albanians were "not looking at all for a dialogue with Belgrade". Mr Thaci said: "A new era is beginning in the Balkans. But for Kosovo it doesn't play such a big role. We want to be independent from Belgrade and from Kostunica."

In Dobrosin, Albanian rebels in the Presevo valley in southern Serbia clashed yesterday with the Yugoslav army and police forces, rebel leaders said. No information was available on casualties in fighting the Albanian rebels blame on a crackdown by Mr Kostunica.

The Yugoslav forces attacked trench positions occupied by the rebels a mile from the village of Dobrosin, which they occupy, in an internationally-agreed buffer area between Kosovo and Serbia. The Serb army is technically forbidden to enter the area.

Ethnic Albanian commander Behxet Mehmeti said: "This is the second attack on our positions since Kostunica took power. He can gain the confidence of the Serbs and will try to reinforce his position on condition that he reaches his aim of regaining territory he thinks is his."

The rebel group - many are former KLA fighters - was formed in January this year in an effort by some of the estimated 70,000 ethnic Albanians in the Presevo valley area to counter Serb oppression.

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