US commander says Kosovo role ends at boundary

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Yugoslavia, Mar 18, 2000 -- (AFP) - US General Ricardo Sanchez made it clear at this base Friday that his troops would not intervene in southern Serbia, where ethnic Albanian extremists and Serb police are ratcheting up tension.

Sanchez said the mandate of US forces with the NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR, which he commands, ended at the boundary between Kosovo and the Ground Security Zone (GSZ) that extends five kilometers (three miles) into Serbia.

"KFOR and the United States forces do not have any authority to operate in the Ground Safety Zone," he told reporters after a briefing on the US air and ground operation Wednesday that seized weapons, ammunition, and military equipment at five sites close to the boundary.

Tension in the Presevo Valley, which is divided from the US sector in eastern Kosovo by a line of hills, has risen due to attacks by Albanian extremists and increased pressure by Serb interior ministry police (MUP).

The mayor of an Albanian community in Serbia near the boundary accused police Friday of using "low-intensity tension" to drive ethnic Albanians from the region.

In Pristina, a spokesman for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said Albanians from the city of Presevo had claimed that "a busload of MUP policemen arrived in the town and at least one person told us that children are not attending school because they are nervous about the increased MUP patrols in the area."

Nevertheless, over the past week or so, the number of people entering Serbia exceeded those coming into Kosovo in the sector by around 200, Peter Kessler said.

General Sanchez said that his forces would assist refugees if needed, but stressed "there will be absolutely no safe haven in Multinational Brigade East's area for any violence that is being exported into Presevo or extended back into Kosovo."

He described the so-called Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) as being in its "infant stages in the Presevo Valley," and said that the overall organization of the insurgents "is still in the developing stages."

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