- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2000

BUJANOVAC, Yugoslavia Yugoslavia's new president huddled yesterday with his security commanders on the Kosovo border, where ethnic Albanian rebels have activated a major offensive, triggering Western concerns over another Balkan flash point.

Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's main republic, has been under international control since last year but many residents want full independence. In the 3-mile-wide buffer zone between central Serbia and Kosovo, two days of attacks by the independence-minded rebels have left four Serbian policemen dead and 10 wounded. Rebels also captured several border checkpoints and a main road leading from the Presevo Valley region to Kosovo.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica warned that the attacks could spark a "large-scale war" and said the security situation "is drastically worsening each day." He expressed hope that NATO-led troops in Kosovo would prevent further incidents.

Mr. Kostunica's meeting with security commanders covered "immediate and long-term measures that the police and the army should take," Interior Minister Stevan Nikcevic said. But any intervention by the Yugoslav army or special Serbian police in the buffer zone would violate the peace agreement on Kosovo, and could lead to tensions with NATO troops deployed in the province.

International forces appealed for restraint on the part of Yugoslav troops, but also strongly condemned the ethnic Albanian attacks.

"There is clear evidence that … Albanian guerrillas … have made unprovoked offensive attacks against Serb security forces," said U.S. Lt. Col. Seth Braverman, a spokesman for the international troops. As a precaution, Col. Braverman said, NATO-led peacekeepers closed the only route to the Presevo Valley, on the Kosovo border.

Confirming that the road to Kosovo is closed, Mr. Nikcevic said there had been no fighting in the region yesterday. Patrolling Serbian policemen drove cautiously near the border, saying ethnic Albanian rebels had fired in their direction.

"Look, there they are, they are using one of our outposts," a policemen said, pointing at several silhouettes visible on a grassy hillside. "They have mortars, rocket launchers and heavy machine guns."

"We have no heavy stuff to respond, and we hope that the state will abandon this 'sitting duck' policy," said another policeman who gave only his first name, Dragoslav.

Mr. Kostunica and other Yugoslav officials have demanded that NATO take urgent measures to prevent further incidents.

"Despite the victory of democratic forces in Yugoslavia and its opening up to the world, the international community is not fulfilling its obligation to Yugoslavia," Mr. Kostunica wrote in a letter to NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson.

[Reuters new agency reported that NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo had detained 10 ethnic Albanians suspected of organizing cross-border guerrilla attacks on southern Serbia, and seized a truckload of weapons.]

Tensions were further heightened yesterday by the killing of a close aide to centrist Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova. Officials with Mr. Rugova's party, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Xhemajl Mustafa had been shot in the stairwell of his apartment building in Pristina.

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