Tough-talking US envoy warns Kosovo Albanians

PRISTINA, Mar 13, 2000 -- (Reuters) The United States delivered a blunt message to Kosovo Albanians on Sunday, saying it was disappointed in their leaders and warning them against provoking a new conflict on the province's eastern border.

James Rubin, the State Department spokesman, told reporters in the capital Pristina that U.S. leaders had worked hard to help Albanians by garnering support for NATO's air campaign and move into Kosovo last year and felt let down by their response.

Attacks on Serbs by Albanians angry at years of Serb repression have plagued postwar Kosovo. Rubin said every attack weakened Western resolve to help ethnic Albanians and blamed community leaders for not doing enough to rein in hardliners.

"Those of us who've been the biggest supporters are disappointed," he said.

"We're deeply disappointed by the failure of leaders of all aspects of Kosovo Albanian use their leadership."

Rubin's message was one of the toughest so far by a senior Western official to Kosovo's Albanian majority. It reflected widespread international concern at continuing violence, nine months after NATO bombing drove out Serb forces.

Rubin, who is also Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, was on the first day of a three-day visit to Kosovo.

He was equally frank in his message to Albanians aiming to provoke a clash with Serb forces in an Albanian-dominated area on the other side of the boundary with Serbia proper.

An armed ethnic Albanian group has recently emerged in the area and military analysts believe it may be hoping to draw NATO into a conflict in the Presevo valley region, just as the alliance intervened to help Albanians in Kosovo last year.

"I am, among other things, here to make clear to everyone concerned that we strongly oppose the kind of provocation that could cause new refugees," Rubin said.

He said he had no doubt Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's government was causing problems in the region.

"But we should also leave no doubt that we're opposed to provocations there," he said.

Rubin, who is visiting Kosovo with Washington's Balkans troubleshooter Christopher Hill, spent several hours in discussions with Albanian leaders about elections expected later this year.

The pair were expected to travel on Monday to the flashpoint city of Mitrovica, the scene of recent eruptions of deadly violence between the Albanian majority and minority Serbs.

Original article