Serb opposition denounces 'terrorism' near Kosovo

BELGRADE, Mar 1, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Serb opposition leader, taking a similar line to the Belgrade government, said on Tuesday that ethnic Albanian "terrorism" had spilled over from Kosovo into an Albanian-populated area of southern Serbia.

Vladan Batic, coordinator of the Alliance for Change umbrella opposition group, expressed concern about events in Kosovo, now under de facto international rule, and the region of Serbia just east of the war-torn province.

"It is obvious that violence has escalated again," Batic told a news conference. "The situation is very much like shortly before the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia started."

Batic was speaking before news on Tuesday that a U.N. employee had been shot and wounded by unidentified attackers near Bujanovac, a town east of Kosovo.

"It is high time the international community put an end to Albanian terrorism and protected innocent victims instead of voicing threats against the Yugoslav Army," Batic said.

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

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

Belgrade Sees "Terrorism"

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

A Serbian minister on Monday accused the United States and Kosovo Albanian "terrorists" - Belgrade's term for guerrillas of the officially disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army - of planning to provoke conflict in this part of Serbia.

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.

Giving a different view of the situation on the ground, the ethnic Albanian mayor of Presevo, near Bujanovac, said that local ethnic Albanians were also victims.

He said six men had been killed in separate incidents in recent months, but did not say who he believed were behind the attacks.

Mayor Riza Halimi described the situation in the area as tense and said local Albanians continued to leave for Kosovo.

He also told Reuters over the phone that there had been a considerable increase in Serb police presence in December but said they had kept a lower profile recently.

"Police used to burst into cafes, openly threatening and beating people in front of everyone."

"Neighborly relations are still good here despite the series of incidents," he said.

The mayor said his only knowledge about ethnic Albanian guerrilla attacks in the area came from the media.

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