Bulgaria PM urges Thaqi to avoid new Kosovo crisis

SOFIA, Mar 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov appealed to osovo Albanian leader Hashim Thaqi on Wednesday to prevent outbreaks of violence in the Presevo Valley area east of Kosovo.

In a letter sent to Thaqi, Kostov urged him "to use all his influence to avoid a new conflict, which would have severe consequences for the whole region," said a statement issued by the government.

The letter, which referred to rising ethnic tension in southeastern Serbia, also expressed concern about the fate of ethnic Bulgarians living in the area.

A new conflict would also discourage potential investors in infrastructure projects in the region, the letter said.

An armed group has recently emerged in the Presevo Valley area just inside Serbia, pledging to defend the region's Albanian majority from alleged brutality by Yugoslav Serb security forces.

Western officials fear the group wants to provoke a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian civilians in the belief NATO will intervene to help them, as it did in Kosovo last year.

The international community wrested control of Kosovo from Serbian security forces last year after a 78-day NATO bombing campaign. The conflict caused huge trade losses to Bulgaria.

On Tuesday U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin and the U.S. Balkans troubleshooter Chris Hill said during a visit to Kosovo that Washington would not support any attempt to foment violence on the province's eastern boundary with the rest of Serbia.

Kostov and Thaqi had met in Sofia in January to discuss regional security.

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