State Department defends US raids on ethnic Albanian 'extremists'

WASHINGTON, Mar 17, 2000 -- (AFP) US State Department spokesman James Rubin on Thursday defended raids by American soldiers on weapons caches in Kosovo belonging to what he called ethnic Albanian "extremists."

Rubin, who recently returned from the region where he delivered a blunt warning against violence to ethnic Albanian Kosovars, hinted that such raids would continue if KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping force in the province, determined they were necessary.

The actions show "that the American troops and KFOR intend to fulfill their mission of providing a secure environment in Kosovo and these raids are consistent with that mission," Rubin told reporters.

"We think it's appropriate for US forces to take these kind of steps to prevent any extremists from provoking further hostilities in the region," he said, adding that Washington had long known that elements of the Kosovar Albanian community had not been fully complying with a demilitarization agreement.

"We've known for some time ... that there are weapons out there and we think it's appropriate that the US forces under KFOR operated to take control of those weapons."

His comments followed raids conducted by about 300 US soldiers in KFOR at five sites on Wednesday in which 22 crates of ammunition, seven rifles, 28 hand grenades, two mortar tubes, mines, uniforms and documents were seized.

Rubin also said the action showed that KFOR could do its job of providing security for everyone in the province.

He added that the lack of resistance shown by those targeted indicated that reports the peacekeepers might soon have to fight ethnic Albanians, the very people they were sent there to protect, were exaggerated.

"The fact that the US troops did not face any real opposition in their attempt to gain control of these weapons at these five locations and, in many cases, the Kosovar Albanians not only laid down their arms, but ran away demonstrates that they do not desire a confrontation with American forces," Rubin said.

"We do not believe that we are headed for a confrontation with the Kosovar Albanians."

However, he reiterated deep US concerns that come in Kosovo's ethnic Albanian community were not doing enough to curb attacks on Serbs and repeated earlier warnings that unless the provocations stopped, they risked losing US and international support.

Testifying before a congressional subcommittee on Wednesday Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said such support and the goodwill felt toward Kosovar Albanians was in danger of ebbing.

"What the secretary was indicating was that our support should not be taken for granted and is based on an expectation that they will do what they can to stem this extremism," Rubin said.

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