Serb minister sees US-Albanian plot in South Serbia

BELGRADE, Feb 29, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Serbian minister accused the United States and Kosovo Albanian "terrorists" on Monday of planning to provoke conflict in an Albanian-populated area of southern Serbia close to Kosovo.

Djura Lazic, minister without portfolio, said recent ethnic Albanian attacks in the region were part of a plan to justify new NATO intervention and extend Kosovo to this area of Serbia.

He said they were also designed to drive remaining Serbs out of Kosovo, which is now under de facto international rule.

"The aim is not only ethnic cleansing of Kosovo of Serbs, Montenegrins, Gypsies, Gorans and other non-Albanians but also provoking conflicts and the fire of war in Bujanovac, Medvedja and Presevo," Lazic told the official Tanjug news agency.

The three towns are in an area of Serbia just east of Kosovo, still legally part of Yugoslavia.

Lazic also criticized NATO plans to hold a military exercise in Kosovo in March, saying it would encourage Albanian "terrorists" - the term used by Belgrade for guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

NATO said in Brussels that it would send more than 2,000 troops to Kosovo next month for a training exercise intended to show its resolve to keep the peace.

Western diplomats and politicians have accused Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic of reinforcing troops along the administrative border with Kosovo in order to spread fear and drive out ethnic Albanians.

They have warned Belgrade the world will not tolerate any attempt to destabilize the region further.

Belgrade says it is merely responding to "terrorism" by Kosovo Albanians crossing the border.

On Sunday, Tanjug said a Serb policeman and an ethnic Albanian guerrilla were killed in a shoot-out near Bujanovac.

It said three other policemen were wounded after "Albanian terrorists" crossed from Kosovo on Saturday night and ambushed a police patrol with automatic weapons and hand grenades.

Lazic said the aim of such attacks was to provoke Serb police action and portray ethnic Albanians in the area as being under threat, thus justifying new NATO intervention.

Yugoslav forces withdrew from Kosovo last June after 11 weeks of NATO bombing to halt Belgrade's repression of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.

Also on Monday, the Yugoslav army denied accusations it was massing troops in the area east of Kosovo.

"The Third Army command denies and emphatically rejects all criticism and accusations that it is allegedly conducting preparatory and provocative actions directed against international forces in Kosovo," said a statement.

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