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Yugoslav Military Threatens New Fight : Kosovo: Army accuses NATO of violating peace agreement. General says it will reenter province if U.N. does not allow Serb soldiers in to protect minorities from attack.

September 12, 1999|PAUL WATSON and SCOTT MARTELLE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NIS, Yugoslavia — The Yugoslav army is making ominous threats that it will force its way back into Kosovo if the United Nations doesn't soon deliver on a promise to let some Serbian soldiers and police return to the southern province.

Angered by almost daily attacks on Serbs and other ethnic minorities in Kosovo, the Yugoslav military accuses the U.N. and NATO-led peacekeepers of violating the June peace accord that ended the war over Kosovo.

Under the deal, called the Military Technical Agreement, the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army is supposed to be dismantled and Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosovo assured, but the opposite is happening, Yugoslav Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic charged in an interview here.

By overturning federal laws, the U.N. civilian administration running Kosovo--a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic--is also violating a U.N. Security Council resolution affirming Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosovo, the general charged. He said that, for example, the U.N. is moving to introduce new passports and customs rules for the province.

"They didn't do what they were supposed to do: protect the borders, provide security for the non-Albanian population, disarm the KLA, create a platform for the political solution of the future of Kosovo," said Pavkovic, commander of the Yugoslav 3rd Army troops who fought in Kosovo.

"The [Yugoslav] army will not do anything until it gets the order to act, but it is ready to act," he said. "Since [peacekeeping] units have done nothing about the [U.N.] resolution and the Military Technical Agreement, we feel we have the right to ask them to pull out from our country because they didn't respect anything that was agreed."

That may be mere bluster coming from a general facing about 40,000 NATO-led ground troops in Kosovo and commanding a much more poorly equipped force already battered by 78 days of intense NATO airstrikes.

But the Yugoslav army may also have something other than a conventional ground attack in mind. Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo claim that Serbian security forces and paramilitary units are already secretly working in civilian clothes in the territory.

Yugoslav Gen. Vladimir Lazarevic, commander of the Pristina Corps--which NATO forced to retreat--has told a newspaper in Belgrade, the Yugoslav and Serbian capital, that his troops are obsessed with returning to Kosovo and "are waiting for the appropriate decision command."

"We are asking to return to Kosovo in accord with the international agreement," Lazarevic told the Nedeljni Telegraf on Wednesday. "If not, then our state will have to find other ways.

"I would not prejudge that now," he added. "I just know that this would not be favorable for anyone in the region."

The peace deal that Yugoslavia ratified on June 3 guarantees that "an agreed number of Serb personnel will be allowed to return to Kosovo" to perform such duties as "maintaining a presence at sites of Serb heritage and . . . at key border crossings."

The details were left open for negotiation later, but the Serbs insist they were promised that several hundred soldiers and police could return to guard Orthodox churches and other sites as well as to secure border posts.

Although the KLA guerrillas are due to disband by next Sunday, the NATO-led force and U.N. administration have agreed to let the rebel army form a "Kosovo Corps" to, among other things, respond to natural disasters.

Modeled after the U.S. National Guard, the corps would have 3,000 uniformed members carrying weapons, with an additional 2,000 reservists, helicopters, a security force and an honor guard.

To Serbian authorities, that sounds like the core of a new army that Kosovo's ethnic Albanians could use to push for independence. Russia's government also opposes the plan and will try to stop it in the Security Council, First Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Avdeyev reportedly told officials in Belgrade last week.

"The greatest and most painful problem is the separating of Kosovo from Yugoslavia, hidden behind a slogan on preserving its territorial integrity," Avdeyev was quoted as saying by Tanjug, the state-run Yugoslav news agency.

Pavkovic was more blunt during an interview at the Yugoslav army officers club in the southern city of Nis.

"Patience is running out," he said. "Kosovar Serbs are more endangered every day, our laws are suspended, the KLA gets clear support--all of those questions test the patience of our people and of our government."

Pavkovic insisted that his troops suffered minimal losses by carefully hiding during the allied airstrikes and that they are still strong enough to take on the NATO-led force in Kosovo, known as KFOR.

"Right now, our army is very capable of confronting KFOR troops and taking Kosovo back," he said. "Without great air support, KFOR troops would have little chance against our army.

"A ground-to-ground war is more convenient for us," he said, "since your side is very sensitive to casualties and you would quickly pull out on your own."

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