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Serbia: All Leaders Deplore Violence In Kosovo

Next Monday, June 12, marks the arrival of KFOR peacekeepers in Kosovo. Although ethnic violence between Serbs and Albanians has decreased considerably in the past year, it has experienced an upsurge in recent weeks. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports from Pristina the international community in a chorus of warnings is telling Kosovo's leaders continued violence threatens the future.

Pristina, 9 June (RFE/RL) -- With the first anniversary of NATO's deployment in Kosovo just days away, the international community is sending a strong message to Kosovo's leaders that the latest wave of violence is intolerable and must stop.

Serbs have been the main targets in a spate of drive-by shootings, a road mining and a series of grenade attacks. But two key Albanian figures -- former commanders of the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK -- were also killed in the last two months.

NATO-led peacekeepers of KFOR have also been targets. Someone parked a car rigged with about half a kilo of plastic explosives and a timer in front of the British battalion headquarters in the center of Pristina Thursday. But a British guard noticed something odd about the vehicle, and a KFOR unit deactivated the car bomb in time.

Javier Solana, the man who headed NATO one year ago and ordered the 11 weeks of air strikes against Yugoslavia that ended a decade of Serbian repression of Kosovo's Albanian majority, is now the European Union's foreign policy chief. He was in Kosovo this week to deliver a stern warning to the top Kosovar Albanian leaders, including political leader Ibrahim Rugova and former UCK commander Hashim Thaci.

"As long as we continue with this level of violence, it will be very difficult to continue with the process of reconstruction in a good way, difficult to continue with the process of reconciliation. And therefore I'd like here once again to make a clear appeal to the leaders of this community to lead. To lead means to talk with the people and to condemn what has to be condemned -- and the violence has to be condemned."

Solana expressed "alarm and tremendous indignation" at the violence against the Serbian community. Solana says the anti-Serb violence -- at least 58 attacks last month -- is discouraging the displaced Serbs from returning. Some 150,000 Kosovar Serbs fled the province last year and most have not yet returned.

The EU foreign policy chief told the leaders of the Kosovar Albanian community to speak up publicly at the community level and condemn any act of violence. Solana says it is not enough to produce a statement. Rather, he says, the leaders must feel committed to the battle to create a place where violence does not exist. In his words: "The community is not a healthy community when you see people killing a child or a woman and nobody denounces anybody."

A special envoy of U.S. President Bill Clinton delivered a similar message, less harshly worded, to Rugova and Thaci yesterday (Thursday). The adviser, James O'Brien, says that Kosovo's leaders should put themselves above suspicion of allowing or encouraging violence.

"If they act properly in this regard, then acts of violence will be seen for what they are -- criminal acts, committed in some cases by extremists, who hope to disrupt the political process that the entire international community has committed itself to. So that's one of the reasons it is so important for the Albanian political leaders to publicly associate themselves with the need for full investigations and punishment of those responsible."

O'Brien says the recent incidents are "systematic attempts to destabilize Serb communities."

He declined to respond directly to allegations that the Belgrade regime may be behind some of the violence in an effort to destabilize Kosovo and discredit the international community. He says a professional criminal investigation is required to establish just who is responsible.

"The fundamental issue is that this violence should stop and that efforts to disrupt the process of creating a democratic and self-governing Kosovo not be derailed by violence of this kind. And that is why it is so important for political leaders of all stripes, particularly the Albanians, to speak against the violence and to work against the violence."

O'Brien says that both Rugova and Thaci told him the violence is unacceptable to the people of Kosovo and committed themselves to work publicly to end the violence.

Rugova and Thaci each issued statements this week deploring the violence. Rugova, in his capacity as head of the Democratic League of Kosovo, termed the acts of violence, "especially those targeting the Serb community, extremely disturbing." No matter who is responsible, he said, the violence threatens Kosovo's hard-won freedom, stability and peace. Rugova demanded an immediate halt to the violence, warning that further acts, "especially on the first anniversary of freedom, may take away the moral and material support Kosovo has had in the international community."

In comparison, Thaci's statement, issued in his function as head of the Democratic Party of Kosovo, is much more mildly worded. It calls for "this phenomenon to disappear," and asks "all citizens of Kosovo to refrain from and to denounce all violent acts" and to contribute to increasing security for all citizens of Kosovo.

While the international community exerts pressure on Kosovo's leaders, KFOR peacekeepers have a similar mission at the grassroots level. The commander of a British battalion (2nd battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers), currently stationed in Pristina, Lieutenant Colonel James Murray-Playfair, says his troops are talking directly to the people.

"[The] way we get across the message is by meeting, as my soldiers do every day every night on the streets of Pristina, [and the mainly Serb-inhabited villages] Gracanica, Obilic, and Kosovo Polje. And by talking to them, we get across a very clear message, that violence will not be tolerated."

The British colonel says ordinary people in these communities have no desire for violence and want the benefits of a peaceful and orderly society. He describes the recent upsurge in violence as "a relatively small blip," saying that the long-term trend since the UCK was demilitarized in September is toward an increasingly secure environment.

Murray-Playfair says, however, that challenges still remain.

"[The] first one is persuading men of violence -- wherever they come from, whether they are Serbs who want to injure policemen, Serbs who want to injure Albanians, Albanians who want to injure Serbs or indeed other Albanians -- the very, very strong, resolute message from all of KFOR is that this violence will not be tolerated. And I think the challenge of security over the summer is one that we will continue to fight out."

The British colonel says his men are trying to spread the message that violence is not a solution to Kosovo's problems.