- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said Thursday that Albanian militants "got the message" to quit attacking Serbs in Kosovo and threatening the neighboring Presevo Valley when he spoke to them last week.

Nevertheless, troops from the international peacekeeping force, Kfor, Thursday found explosives on a bridge north of Mitrovica, which might have been placed there by Albanian extremists.

Mr. Rubin said he had met with a number of former Kosovo Liberation Army activists on his recent trip to Kosovo, where he stepped beyond the role of spokesman into the role of trouble-shooting diplomat.

Speaking Thursday at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a government-funded think tank, Mr. Rubin said he reminded the Albanians that the United States had pledged to bomb the Yugoslav army if the Albanians signed a peace pact accepting autonomy instead of an independent state.

The Albanians showed "a sense of honor" and agreed to abide by the agreement, Mr. Rubin said.

"As a result of this, the Albanians got the message that they risk the loss of U.S. support" if violence against Serbs continues.

Some Albanians at most a few dozen, according to Mr. Rubin were also advised to stop attacks in the Presevo Valley region of Serbia, just across the border from the section of Kosovo controlled by U.S. Kfor troops.

"I hope they got the message, too," said Mr. Rubin, noting that shortly after his visit, five or six Presevo Albanian arms caches were discovered by Kfor.

Mr. Rubin conceded there is strong Congressional pressure to withdraw U.S. troops from Kosovo. But, he said, "On the last trip I saw that when Americans talk, they listen.

"If we want to make [the peace effort] work, we need more American involvement, not less."

Father Irinej Dobrijevic, executive director of the office of external affairs of the Serbian Orthodox Church, told Mr. Rubin that there is still "systematic" persecution of Serbs in Kosovo and that 200,000 Serbs who fled the province are afraid to return.

Mr. Rubin said there remains a desire for revenge among the Albanians, who suffered for 10 years under a Serbian system of "apartheid" which treated them as "subhuman."

After NATO began its bombing campaign one year ago Friday, Yugoslav Serbian forces began wholesale ethnic cleansing, arresting and killing thousands and expelling 1 million ethnic Albanians.

"The Albanians are angry it's irrational," said Mr. Rubin. "Not all Serbs are responsible" for what happened.

"That's why we want tribunals" to try those guilty of war crimes, Mr. Rubin said.

"The violence today [against individual Serbs] is not nearly as bad as last summer and is rapidly decreasing but it is still too much."

Thursday, Belgian and Danish military engineers in Kfor discovered explosives on a bridge north of the divided city of Mitrovica, a day after a nearby railway viaduct was blown up, Kfor officials said.

The device, armed with a remote-control trigger, was found about 6 miles north of Mitrovica, deep inside the last large area of Kosovo controlled by Serbs.

The leader of the Serbian community in Mitrovica, Oliver Ivanovic, blamed "Albanian extremists" for the attack on the railway bridge.

"This was done to stir up panic among the Serb population in Mitrovica and to provoke a new exodus of Serbs from the province," he said.

Lt. Patrick Chanliau, a French Kfor spokesman, said, "It's very hard to say who would be responsible" for the explosives found Thursday.

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