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UN: Security Council Urges Safeguards On Kosovo-Macedonian Border

The UN Security Council has condemned the latest attack by ethnic Albanian gunmen in northern Macedonia and appealed to Kosovo Albanian leaders to help calm tensions. The condemnation came in a council statement that supported Macedonia's efforts to stabilize its border area. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 8 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council has condemned the actions of ethnic Albanian gunmen in Macedonia and expressed support for Macedonian efforts to calm the situation.

Council members expressed broad support for Macedonia's territorial integrity and issued a statement late yesterday (7 March) that condemned the actions of extremist ethnic Albanians. The council's president, Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko, appealed in the statement for moderate ethnic Albanian leaders to help calm the tensions in the border region.

"It [that is, the statement] calls on all political leaders in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia and Kosovo, FRY [that is, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia], who are in a position to do so, to isolate the forces behind the violent incidents and to shoulder their responsibility for peace and stability in the region."

The council met at the request of Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgan Kerim, who came to UN headquarters to present a plan by his government to halt attacks by ethnic Albanian rebels.

After briefing the council, Kerim told reporters that he was looking for its support in calling for a ground safety zone in the border region. He said Macedonia would prefer NATO-led forces in the region but that Yugoslav forces could be what he described as "complementary" to the buffer zone sought by Macedonia.

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson says the alliance is considering whether to allow the deployment of Yugoslav forces on the Kosovo side of the border with Macedonia.

Kerim and other diplomats speaking outside the council chamber yesterday said the main challenge is preventing ethnic Albanian gunmen from roaming freely across the mountainous borders of Kosovo, Macedonia, and southern Serbia. Kerim said:

"Those five kilometers on the southeastern corner of the border which touches Serbia and Macedonia and Kosovo is an issue which KFOR and the Yugoslav authorities have to resolve."

Kerim said Macedonian security forces were unable to deal with the problem independently and needed to coordinate efforts with KFOR troops on the Kosovo side of the border.

Kerim's discussions with the Security Council followed similar talks the council held yesterday with NATO Secretary-General Robertson and with Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic. The talks took place at a time of renewed violence in the border zones between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia and between Kosovo and Macedonia.

On the Kosovo side of its border with Macedonia, U.S. peacekeeping troops engaged presumed ethnic Albanian gunmen in a firefight yesterday. Two of the gunmen were wounded in the incident.

In southern Serbia yesterday, three Yugoslav soldiers were killed after their jeep struck a land mine just outside of the buffer zone between Kosovo and Serbia.

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters it was important for the Security Council to send a strong signal that action needs to be taken against extremist forces.

"We must all recognize that what we are witnessing is an attempt to destabilize the entire Balkans and trying to provoke a re-drawing of the borders which would mean another war."

Lavrov and other Security Council diplomats expressed hope that KFOR would strengthen its presence along Kosovo's border with Macedonia. Diplomats commenting on the situation yesterday also said that Security Council resolution 1244, which set up the UN administration in Kosovo, contained the necessary provisions to deal with the factors contributing to the recent upsurge in violence.

The resolution upheld Yugoslavia's sovereignty over Kosovo but mandated that the UN mission -- known as UNMIK -- create "substantial autonomy" for Kosovar Albanians. Ethnic Albanians have demanded full independence from Yugoslavia.

Yugoslav Prime Minister Zizic told a news conference yesterday that his government wanted to begin talks immediately with Kosovo Albanian leaders under UN auspices to try to begin confidence-building measures in the province. He said talks could take place in Pristina, Belgrade, or New York.

"[The talks would] attempt to find a solution for a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society in Kosovo and Metohija ("Kosovo and Metohija" is the Yugoslav term for Kosovo province). Without a dialogue between the federal government and UNMIK on the one hand and a dialogue between federal representatives and Albanians in Kosovo [on the other hand] the conditions for creating such a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society will be absent."

In response to a reporter's question, Zizic said he believed the drive for independence by some Kosovo Albanians would subside after democratic institutions are strengthened in Kosovo.

He offered guarded support for province-wide elections in Kosovo, which UN officials have begun planning, but said they can only take place after the return of hundreds of thousands of Serbs who have fled the province.

"Also very important is very cautious planning and the holding of the elections in Kosovo and Metohija. When conditions have been created for these elections to be free, fair and democratic, and when we have created a legal framework for these elections, [then] conditions will have been created that [allow] all residents of Kosovo and Metohija to participate in those elections -- including those 260,000 people displaced from Kosovo and Metohija."

At the same, the United Nations refugee agency -- UNHCR -- reports an increasing number of ethnic Albanians from northern Macedonia are seeking refuge in Kosovo. The agency says there are now more than 800 refugees who have fled to Kosovo since early February and hundreds more have been displaced in Macedonia.