Belgrade dismisses West's allegations on Kosovo

BELGRADE, Feb 22, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslavia dismissed Western officials' allegations that it was stoking tensions in and around Kosovo and accused them on Tuesday of supporting Albanian "terrorists" in the province.

"These people are behind the terrorism and separatism of Kosovo Albanians. They have created the Kosovo Liberation Army and a crisis in the Balkans to expand NATO to the region," Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic said.

He was speaking a day after battles broke out between Western peacekeepers and rioters when thousands of ethnic Albanians tried to storm across a bridge in the center of the flashpoint Kosovo city of Mitrovica to reach the province's largest remaining Serb enclave.

On Sunday, NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping troops clashed with Mitrovica's Serbs, angered by the troops' search of homes for weapons following shootings and grenade attacks which killed nine people, both Serbs and Albanians.

Richard Holbrooke, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in New York on Monday that trouble was being fomented by the Yugoslav government, which was forced by last year's NATO air war to surrender control of Kosovo.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said on Monday the military alliance was also monitoring a Yugoslav troop build-up in other ethnic Albanian areas of southern Serbia and would not tolerate a new conflict there.

NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark, visiting Albania, also expressed concern about the area.

Matic counterattacked by accusing Holbrooke, Robertson and Clark of wanting to expel remaining Serbs from Mitrovica in order to gain control of a mine near the city, saying they were "in a gold rush".

"The three are demanding from ethnic Albanians to expel the remaining non-Albanians from Mitrovica in order to get hold of the richest gold mine in the Balkans," Matic said.

But it would not succeed, he said, adding that "Serbia is not California".

He was referring to the Trepca lead and zinc mining complex, which exploits ore also containing gold and silver. The complex is situated north of Mitrovica in a Serb-dominated area. Serbia still controls four of some 17 Trepca mines in Kosovo.

"These people are now doing everything to cover up their crimes," Matic said of the leaders of NATO countries which took part in the March-to-June air campaign against Belgrade.

The state news agency Tanjug reported that Yugoslavia lodged a sharp protest with the U.N. Security Council late on Monday.

"Yugoslavia has already warned the Security Council on previous occasions against the fiasco and inability of KFOR and the U.N. Mission in Kosovo to realize their obligations stemming from resolution 1244 as well as the Military-Technical Agreement," it quoted the Yugoslav letter as saying.

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