ABC News
Ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia say mistrusted


BELGRADE, Feb 2 (Reuters) - An ethnic Albanian mayor from an area of Serbia bordering Kosovo says tensions there are high because police are blaming the local Albanian population for a number of armed incidents, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Police have beefed up their presence in the area near Kosovo, which has been controlled by NATO-led international forces since June after 11 weeks of air strikes against Yugoslav security forces to stop repression of Kosovo's Albanians.

Serbian media began reporting attacks in southern Serbia last November when they said two policemen had been killed and six wounded. Police say separatist guerrillas from the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) are responsible.

Riza Halimi, the mayor of the southern Serbian town of Presevo, said local Albanians felt that "fingering" Albanians in the three municipalities where they are in a majority was unfair, the Glas daily reported.

"An impression of mistrust is being created instead of tolerance. Something is not right now and I fear it may escalate," Glas quoted Halimi as saying, without elaborating.

Halimi is also the local boss of the party of Democratic Action (PDD) which has one deputy in the Serbian parliament.

He said police had almost tripled their strength in the municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja in comparison to the pre-NATO air war period, creating an "atmosphere reminiscent of Kosovo events."

"Maybe this (the attacks) was done by Albanian terrorists, maybe a group of Serbs. I believe both are possible. Maybe these explosions were necessary for the state to send police reinforcements three days later," he was quoted as saying.

A police commander in Kursumlija confirmed that police had stepped up their presence in the area.

"We have increased control of the border strip towards Podujevo (northern Kosovo) because of ethnic Albanians' looting of Serb peasants in our municipality," police major Rodoljub Dosovic told Reuters recently.

"Ethnic Albanians terrorists are ambushing our policemen and attacking them" he added.