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UN: Security Council Warns Albanian Extremists In Presevo

The UN Security Council has condemned violent acts by ethnic Albanian extremists in southern Serbia and called for increased efforts by international forces to stabilize the situation there. The Council statement followed an appeal by the Yugoslav foreign minister to stop the violence and allow what he called "momentum" on Kosovo affairs to carry forward. UN Correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 20 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council today expressed serious concern about the deteriorating situation in southern Serbia's Presevo Valley and said it appreciated the restraint shown so far by Yugoslav authorities.

The council adopted a presidential statement condemning the violence committed in recent weeks by ethnic Albanian extremists in the Presevo Valley. The statement came after a report from the UN Secretary-General's office which said attacks by the ethnic Albanian fighters in mid-November increased in "size, sophistication and aggressiveness."

The report noted that three Serbian police have been killed in attacks by an Albanian group called the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovic, three towns populated mostly by ethnic Albanians in Serbia.

Earlier, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic addressed the council and said his government is especially concerned by the timing of the attacks in Presevo. He said the new democratic government of Yugoslavia was committed to dialogue with the United Nations, NATO and moderate Albanians from Kosovo but the outbreak of violence threatened to undermine this process.

"No solution can be achieved without dialogue and negotiation and the loss of the momentum may bring about the deterioration of the situation and lead to unforeseeable consequences. Such a course of events may not only aggravate the situation in Kosovo-Metojiha but also jeopardize the democratic process in the federal republic of Yugoslavia and affect the stability of the region as a whole."

Today's council session followed a statement issued by the Yugoslav and Serbian governments demanding that the council condemn the attacks in Presevo and set a deadline for the pullback of ethnic Albanian fighters. Otherwise, that statement said, Yugoslavia would exercise its right to solve the problem itself.

Svilanovic offered no such warning today but instead stressed his government's willingness to open up a dialogue with ethnic Albanians in Kosovo on setting a framework for stabilizing the situation in the region.

"My government is prepared to take all necessary measures to integrate the local Albanian population and help them participate actively and be represented in local and central authorities as well as in other walks of life, in particular, before all, police, health care, education, et cetera."

Security Council members applauded the moves toward conciliation by the government of President Vojislav Kostunica. The deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, James Cunningham, said KFOR has responded to the alarm from Yugoslav officials by increasing efforts to tighten the border between Kosovo and the border zone where the armed extremists are operating. He said KFOR has detained dozens of suspected extremists and seized a number of weapons headed to the Presevo region.

Cunningham also urged Kosovo Albanian politicians to use their influence to stop the extremist groups from operating in Presevo. And he appealed for both sides not to overreact to the situation.

"We would caution against exaggerated charges and calls for military action that have emanated from some on both sides of the Kosovo border."

Cunningham also joined UN officials in welcoming the results of the recent municipal elections in Kosovo, which led to 800 members of new assemblies taking office next month. The U.S. deputy ambassador spoke in favor of provincial elections in the spring of 2001, which he said would solidify democratic gains in Kosovo. The outgoing UN administrator in the province, Bernard Kouchner, has also spoken in favor of such elections.

But Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Sergei Lavrov, said elections should not be discussed until the situation of minorities in Kosovo is improved. He said a push for more elections at this time would serve to aggravate, not lessen tensions, in the area.

"Forced elections at an earlier date, which the outgoing mission head was striving for, would only strengthen the mono-ethnic character of Kosovo, stir up nationalist sentiments in Albanian areas in southern Serbia and aggravate the situation on the ground in Presevo Valley."

The Security Council was eager to issue its condemnation of the violence ahead of this weekend's elections in Serbia, in which democratic forces are expected to do well.