Kosovo Albanian mayor blames Milosevic for destabilization

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia, Feb 26, 2000 -- (AFP) The ethnic Albanian leader in this divided town blamed Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for recent troubles here Friday and called for British and US troops to patrol the Serb-dominated north.

Bajram Rexhepi also demanded demonstrations be banned following a march by tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians on Monday which raised tension in the town and led to scuffles with KFOR international peacekeepers.

The self-appointed major of the ethnic Albanian southern sector said the situation in the town was "really dangerous," but added that it was only in such situations that the international community was moved to act.

"We know that it takes a long time to have any action. Always we have promises, promises, promises and only if we have major incidents and the situation is very dangerous will the international community finally do something concrete," he said.

"Following the provocation and destabilization initiated by the Milosevic regime, the international community recognizes the new dangerous situation," he said.

He welcomed recent proposals for up to 2,000 ethnic Albanians driven from homes in the north to start a gradual return under KFOR protection.

But said he would not negotiate with Mitrovica's Serbian leader Oliver Ivanoic to push the issue forwards.

"For the time being I am not ready to talk with him. I talked with him enough for seven months and we had no kind of success," he said.

He stressed that after the "massacre" of February 3, when a grenade attack on a Serb cafe sparked a night of rioting that left at least six Albanians dead, he could not resume contact with Ivanovic, accusing him of organizing armed groups in the unrest.

"I am ready to talk even with the devil to improve the situation, but after this massacre I cannot talk with him," he said.

He said French troops had lost credibility by failing to control the violence and called for more "neutral" forces such as British and US troops to patrol the north, a move vehemently opposed by the Serbs.

"Maybe they would prefer to see Serbian soldiers or Russian or maybe Greek, but it is impossible in this moment, they must accept this reality," he said.

He blamed the clashes which marked the end of Monday's mass demonstration on out-of-town "troublemakers" driven by unemployment and frustration at the exodus of Albanians from the north.

He said he had opposed the march, preferring to allow KFOR to "concentrate all their energy and attention on the security situation."

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