Greece, FYROM worried about Southern Serbia

KORCE, Albania, Mar 10, 2000 -- (Reuters) Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia voiced concern on Thursday that restive ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia seemed intent on stoking trouble similiar to that which led to NATO's intervention in nearby Kosovo.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou and his counterpart Aleksandar Dimitrov of FYROM, which borders southern Serbia, said insurgency would threaten the stability of FYROM, the Balkan region and its integration into Europe.

One Serbian policeman and an Albanian were killed recently in violence after the emergence of a group calling itself the Liberation Army of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medveda (UCPMB), three mostly Albanian towns in Serbia on the edge of Kosovo province.

Papandreou said the clashes along Kosovo's boundary with Serbia and in the ethnically divided Kosovo city of Mitrovica were not isolated events and were hampering efforts to integrate the Balkans.

"I would like to make a call to those involved to refrain from extremism, to refrain from violence so we can all build a different type of Balkan society," Papandreou told reporters.

Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said after meeting his FYROM and Greek colleagues in the Albanian town of Korce that acts contrary to the spirit of dialogue in the volatile region were to be condemned.

But he said Albanian civilians in southern Serbia were acting in self-defence because they feared mass expulsion.

"We think the tensions that have been created there stem from the policy of genocide and ethnic cleansing that the Belgrade authorities have pursued for a long time," he told reporters.

The United Nations refugee agency said the number of Albanians leaving southern Serbia climbed sharply to 700 on Tuesday amid reports of harassment by Serb police and military.

A 1998-99 conflict between the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and Serbian security forces culminated in NATO air strikes that forced Belgrade to withdraw from Kosovo.

The Yugoslav province is now a de facto international protectorate, under U.N.-NATO control.

Milo said his government had no contact with the shadowy UCPMB, a possible offshoot of the officially disbanded KLA.

"We do not support extremism no matter what side it comes from," he said.

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