NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson and the alliance's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, U.S. General Joseph Ralston, visited Kosovo today to reinforce NATO's commitment to Kosovo. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports from Pristina that the NATO leaders' visit was also intended to reiterate that KFOR will do everything it can to stop the recent violence between ethnic Albanian extremists and Serbian police in the Presevo Valley of neighboring southern Serbia.
Pristina, 30 Nov 2000 (RFE/RL) - NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson on a visit to Kosovo today denounced ethnic Albanian insurgents operating in the five-kilometer wide "ground safety zone" along southern Serbia's boundary with Kosovo.
"We condemn unreservedly violence taking place in an area which was designed last year to be a buffer zone between Serbia proper and Kosovo and was designed for the defense of the people and the troops inside Kosovo."
Robertson describes the insurgent Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, or UCPMB, as "a handful of extremists who are trying to seek an over-action." But he says they won't get far.
Robertson confirmed that he has been exchanging correspondence with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. He says he shares Kostunica's worries and concerns about the recent upsurge in violence in the Presevo Valley.
"The fact that the president of Yugoslavia writes to the secretary-general of NATO on a matter of common concern -- an outbreak of violence in southern Serbia and the Presevo Valley -- is an indication of the fact that these problems in the future will be dealt with in a radically different way than they were in the past."
Robertson says Yugoslavia has stopped demanding access for its forces to the ground safety zone, as he puts it, because KFOR is taking action on the Kosovo side of the boundary and because the insurgents are coming under pressure from Serbian forces. He says NATO will not agree to any changes to existing agreements that bar Yugoslav armed forces and heavy weaponry from the zone. Local Serbian police, however, are permitted to patrol the zone.
Robertson says the KFOR commander, Italian General Carlo Carbigiousu, has come up with a program to help resolve the situation.
"We have already improved our surveillance operations in the area, intensified patrolling of the security presence. We've increased KFOR's working level contacts with the Serbian local police as well as encouraging local contacts between the Serbs and the Presevo Valley Albanians to discuss their problems. But the leadership here in Kosovo, as I have just told them, has also a role to play in restraining extremists in the area."
The projected program includes a public information campaign to highlight the criminal aspects of the UCPMB and the politically damaging effects of the insurgents' activities, which Robertson says damage everyone's interests in Kosovo.
"With the wind of change blowing in Serbia, the international community will not easily understand and certainly won't accept the actions of those extremists. The men of violence have had their day in Kosovo and now they can only harm the prospects for the people of Kosovo."
Robertson says the recent local elections in Kosovo, in which moderates defeated radicals, show there is an "underlying huge desire for peace on the part of the majority of the people." But Robertson says a minority still exists that is prepared to use violence for revenge, power or criminality.
Robertson's visit came just a day after a new round of clashes near Bujanovac in the Presevo Valley between the insurgent UCPMB and advancing Serb Interior Ministry forces.
Over the past week, KFOR has intercepted three consignments of weapons bound for the UCPMB insurgents. In the latest seizure yesterday, Norwegian KFOR troops in the central Kosovo region of Drenica stopped and searched a truck. They found a rocket-propelled grenade, 1,000 rounds of ammunition, 20 mortar rounds, 20 anti-personnel mines and what KFOR terms "a quantity of UCPMB uniforms."
The top two Kosovar Albanian politicians, Ibrahim Rugova and Hashim Thaci, were attending a symposium in Greece today and were unavailable to comment on Robertson's policy of cooperating with Yugoslavia to stem the violence in southern Serbia.
But Naim Jerliu, a vice president of the largest Kosovar Albanian political party -- Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK- - told RFE/RL in Pristina that the only solution to the dispute over the Presevo Valley is a political one.
"LDK stands for a political solution of all the problems in the region and we of course stand for a political solution of the problem of the Presevo Valley."
Jerliu also says the Belgrade regime should recognize the rights of the Albanians in southern Serbia.