- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2001

LUCANE, Yugoslavia — Yugoslav army forces and Serbian police are scheduled to enter this village near the border of Kosovo today, ending a two-year rebellion by ethnic Albanians.
The deployment marks a major victory for the new reform government in Belgrade, which has been forced to devote attention and scarce resources to beating back the roughly 1,000-member Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, known by its Albanian acronym UCPMB.
The rebels, operating from the safe haven of a U.N.-declared buffer zone along the border with Kosovo, have killed dozens of Serbian policemen.
Their major demand was an end to harassment by local police, who are overwhelmingly ethnic Serbs in this majority Albanian area.
In exchange for a laying down of arms by the rebels, Belgrade has agreed to form a multiethnic police force evenly divided between Serbs and Albanians, and to give amnesty to those rebels who did not commit major crimes.
Serbian police laid on the charm when the deployment began last week, bringing chocolates for children and assuring Albanians in the newly occupied territories that they meant no harm.
"It was quite a surprise," said an Albanian shopkeeper in Muhovac, who was still too nervous to give his name. "Im not used to hearing things like that" from Serbs.
Still, many here in the cradle of UCPMB support are nervous.
Police reportedly beat two Albanians in Muhovac, one of whom had a keychain with an eagle, an Albanian nationalist symbol, and Yugoslav forces last week shot dead a popular rebel leader, Commander Lleshi.
"The people here are very scared," said Nexhmedin, a truck driver in Lucane who didnt want to give his last name. "We heard what happened in Muhovac."
Albanians argue that there is little if any change in Belgrade since a more Western-oriented government took power in October.
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica disagrees, saying his government has merely inherited the problems of the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic.
"The reasons to take up arms after (the change in government) were nonexistent," he said last week.
Officials in Kosovo say thousands of families have fled into the NATO-administered territory out of fear of the Serbian forces. But residents of Muhovac say some have started to return after hearing that the Serbian police were behaving well.
Much credit for the resolution of the latest conflict is being given to the United States and Europe.
The point man for the Yugoslav government in southern Serbia, Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, said NATO intervention was crucial to the solution of the crisis.
Albanian sources close to the negotiations say that without pressure from NATO, the UCPMB commanders would never have agreed to stop fighting.
"We trust only the Americans and the Europeans, not the Serbs," said one Albanian in Lucane. "If the Americans were not here, the Serb military would have killed all of us."
James Lyon, director of the Serbian project of the think tank International Crisis Group, said persistent efforts by the State Department and Pentagon made the agreement possible.
"The EU has been remarkably absent in all this, the Americans are doing all the heavy lifting," he said.
While one ethnic Albanian rebellion may be ending, another in neighboring Macedonia shows no sign of slowing. Officials there have refused to negotiate with the rebels, but there is word in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, that the government may be considering such a move.
Although many in Macedonia fear that UCPMB fighters will now join that fight, Albanians here say —only a handful will do so.


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