- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2000

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians yesterday found themselves the target of increasing international criticism as U.N. peacekeepers struggled to contain a new outbreak of ethnic violence in southern Serbia.
The NATO-dominated peacekeeping force in the Yugoslav province yesterday dispatched two companies of British soldiers to the U.S.-patrolled sector near Kosovo's boundary with Serbia.
The beefed-up military force is designed expressly to deal with Kosovo Albanian guerrillas who have been crossing the border to clash with Serbian police over control of mixed-ethnic villages in Serbia's Presevo Valley.
On a one-day visit to Kosovo yesterday, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson warned ethnic Albanian leaders that they faced a severe test in restraining the violent "extremists" in their midst.
"They should be isolated, and they should be condemned both privately and publicly by all of the leaders here," Mr. Robertson said after a meeting with local leaders in Pristina. Among those in the audience were former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), whom the Serbs accuse of supplying the troops for the latest unrest.
NATO announced yesterday that Norwegian peacekeeping troops had seized a shipment of ammunition, mines, mortar shells and uniforms in the Drenica Valley, a stronghold of the KLA during the 1999 war. The shipment apparently was destined for ethnic Albanian rebels operating across the border in Serbia.
Tensions in the valley escalated last week when a rebel offensive resulted in the capture of several Albanian-majority villages inside Serbia. Four Serbian policemen were killed, according to Reuters News Agency.
The government of new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica was upset particularly because the fighting occurred in a 3-mile-wide demilitarized "buffer zone" demanded by NATO after last year's war over Kosovo.
The international reaction to the latest fighting shows the changed dynamic in Kosovo. Mr. Kostunica, who ousted strongman Slobodan Milosevic in September elections, has won international praise for his restraint in the latest fighting.
Serbian police yesterday reclaimed control of Lucane, one of the villages taken by rebels last week, but the Kostunica government said it will respect the buffer zone even as it presses NATO and the United Nations to halt the Albanian incursion.
On a visit to Belgrade yesterday, Maki Shinohara, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said some 4,400 ethnic Albanians had fled into Kosovo from villages in the Presevo Valley as a "precaution" in the past week, but there had been no reports of intimidation or violence by Serbian officials against the refugees.
She also praised Mr. Kostunica for his public comments saying he would work for a diplomatic solution to the latest violence a far cry from Mr. Milosevic's tactics.
Albanian militants, who suffered a sharp setback in U.N.-sponsored municipal elections in late October, want to link the Albanian-dominated sections of southern Serbia to Kosovo in what they hope eventually will be an independent state.
Mr. Robertson yesterday called the Albanian offensive a "direct threat" to NATO's mission in Kosovo.
But analysts said Mr. Kostunica must walk a fine line in dealing with Serbian anger over the incursions as he prepares for critical parliamentary elections Dec. 23 designed to cement his still-shaky authority in Belgrade.
"Some Albanians are testing both the new Belgrade government and the international community," Yugoslav political analyst Predrag Simic said in an analysis this week.
"The familiar pattern is being used to force [Mr. Kostunica] to repeat Milosevic's mistakes, to put the new president to the same test Milosevic regularly failed by nervously drawing a gun," Mr. Simic said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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