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NATO Gets 72 Hours to Curb Violence in Kosovo Buffer

November 25, 2000|From Times Wire Services

BUJANOVAC, Yugoslavia — In a test for Yugoslavia's young democracy, Serbian police Friday gave NATO-led troops in Kosovo a 72-hour deadline to stop incursions by ethnic Albanian militants over the border into Serbia proper.

A show of force by Serbian troops could spark friction between Yugoslavia and the Western alliance that is running Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic. But if new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica does nothing, he could risk being portrayed at home as incapable of dealing with ethnic Albanian extremists.

Ethnic Albanian rebels have taken control of several strategic points and a key road in the buffer zone between Kosovo and central Serbia in an assault that started Tuesday.

The rebels have pushed Serbian police out of much of the three-mile demilitarized zone, but Friday the police vowed to quash the offensive. The rebels are fighting for independence of both Kosovo and the so-called Presevo Valley--the buffer zone--in southern Serbia.

A Serbian interior minister, Bozo Prelevic, gave the Kosovo peacekeeping force 72 hours from 7 p.m. local time Friday to crack down on the guerrillas.

Prelevic said that in case NATO fails to prevent the ethnic Albanian incursions and force the militants back into Kosovo, Serbian police "will return to the territory of the republic of Serbia [in the buffer zone] with the means that are available."

Kostunica, returning from a European Union summit in Zagreb, Croatia, said the border area had to be "hermetically sealed" to stop the violence.

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