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Yugoslavia: NATO Agrees To Reduce Southern Serbia Buffer Zone

Brussels; Skopje; 27 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO foreign ministers today agreed to what they called a "phased and conditioned reduction" of the five-kilometer-wide buffer zone between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia. In a separate move, NATO undertook steps to stabilize the border between Macedonia and Kosovo, where there has been fighting between Macedonian forces and ethnic Albanian extremists the last few weeks. NATO ministers did not immediately release details of the reduction, which was decided at a meeting in Brussels.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said the decision was made in order to reduce the movement of heavily armed ethnic Albanian rebels in the buffer zone, where only lightly-armed Serbian forces are allowed to patrol.

"It is also unacceptable for the ground safety zone to be used as some kind of safe-haven for extremists, so we are preparing for a phased and conditioned reduction of the ground safety zone. We're still working out the details of how this will be done but the commander of KFOR will retain his authority over the zone."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said after the NATO meeting that Washington will not withdraw its troops in the Balkans without consultation with NATO allies.

Meanwhile, NATO is taking action to stabilize the border between Macedonia and Kosovo to prevent fighting between extremist ethnic Albanians and Macedonian security forces.

U.S. troops with the NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping force set up observation posts today near the Macedonian border village of Tanusevci, where the fighting has centered. And NATO dispatched advisers to Skopje to help the government mount an effective challenge to the rebels.

But Macedonia's president and defense minister have written a letter to the UN Security Council complaining that NATO has not done enough to secure Macedonia's border and asking for support for its own action plan.

Macedonia's prime minister warned that the government is prepared to take "radical measures" against the insurgents.

(For more on this story, see Macedonia: Tensions Build On Country's Northern Frontier)