KFOR fears new guerrilla conflict on Kosovo borderMch 01, 2000
PRISHTINA - Rising tension on Kosovos eastern boundary with Serbia is raising fears among KFOR peacekeepers of a new conflict which they could be dragged into.
Violence flared again Saturday when a Serbian police officer was killed and three injured near the town of Bujanovac in an area of southeast Serbia populated by around 75,000 ethnic Albanians.
One ethnic Albanian also died in the attack, according to the official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug, which identified the man as a member of the Kosovo Protection Corps, the KFOR-sponsored civilian successor of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Tanjug identified the dead policeman as 27-year-old Slavisa Dimitrijevic.
The killing was the latest in a spate of incidents in the last four months in the area known to Kosovo Albanians as East Kosovo. Fears are mounting of an open conflict. KFOR officials admit that tension has increased with the build-up of Serbian police in the area and an increase in the flow of local Albanians into Kosovo in recent weeks.
The NATO-led peacekeepers officially deny any knowledge of organised ethnic Albanian fighters crossing the border and attacking Serb security forces around the Presevo valley, the heartland of East Kosovo.
But a KFOR intelligence officer, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP of the appearance of a new "East Kosovo Liberation Army."
He said US troops had met members of the organisation "in uniforms bearing insignia resembling those of the KLA but with the letters PMB added - for the towns of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac."
The group is a source of "great concern" to the US command, he added.
"This could become a more troubled area in the spring," KFORs commander, General Klaus Reinhardt of Germany, told reporters last week.
Under the UN resolution which ended NATOs 78-day air war against Yugoslavia last year, KFORs mandate concerns security issues only in Kosovo, wrested from Belgrade following widespread oppression of ethnic Albanians. There is a five-kilometre (three-mile) demilitarised zone on the boundary, from which Yugoslav troops and special police as well as NATO-led peacekeepers based in Kosovo (KFOR) have been banned. The zone remains open to local Serbian police under an accord between NATO and Belgrade.
However, a US army spokesman said KFOR troops would consider intervening if an "atrocity" were committed across the demilitarised zone on the Serb side.
"The only thing which would bring KFOR into Serbia proper would be atrocities" said Lieutenant Scott Olsen at the US base of Camp Montieth in the southeast.
Following the recent rise in tension, US forces asked KFOR command Saturday for a specific description of what constituted an atrocity and was still awaiting an answer, he said.
He said US troops had moved their checkpoints right up to the border following violence increase. Until then they had kept a kilometre (0.6 mile) from the frontier to avoid US troops straying into Serb territory and provoking incidents, he said.
However, "certain extremists took advantage of the border zone," and a triple slaying near the village of Pasjane, just southeast of Gjilan, "brought the situation to a head," Olson said.
"Things are starting to warm up," he said.
Last month, witnesses said 10 men in KLA uniforms were present at the funeral on the Serbian side of two Albanian brothers killed in an attack which relatives blamed on Serbian police.
Since last June, some 25,000 Albanians have fled the region to avoid Serb reprisals, the Belgrade branch of Helsinki Human Rights Committee said in its 1999 report.
To the south, Macedonia is also gearing up for a refugee influx, the daily Dnevnik quoted Social Security Minister Bedredin Ibrahimi as saying Friday.
That same day an explosive device went off in a heating plant in Bujanovac. More than 36 tons of heating oil poured into the streets of Bujanovac after the blast late Friday in the towns main heating plant. There were no casualties.