Belgrade should not 'suspect' Albanians in Presevo: UN envoy

BELGRADE, Mar 21, 2000 -- (AFP) The United Nation's senior human rights official in Yugoslavia, Jiri Dienstbier, said Monday Yugoslav authorities should put their trust in Albanians living in the Presevo valley, in south-eastern Serbia.

Dienstbier visited the tense region, which has a majority ethnic Albanian population, during his 10-day mission to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

"Albanians in the Presevo valley are loyal citizens. They do not like the destabilization coming from the infiltration of the KLA from Kosovo into their region," Dienstbier told the press in Belgrade.

The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an ethnic Albanian separatist guerilla group, was officially demilitarized in September 1999. Recently, a group of armed ethnic Albanians appeared in the region: the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac (UCPMB) -- named after of three municipalities just outside of Kosovo where some 70,000 Albanians live.

Several armed incidents have been reported in the region.

Dienstbier said that, unlike the Kosovo Albanians, those living in the region of the Presevo valley never boycotted Yugoslav institutions, "never participated in parallel structures" and "always participated in elections."

"The (Serbian) government should recognize their loyalty and not suspect them," he said.

In an interview to AFP Sunday, Dienstbier warned against consequences of actions by members of UCPMB coming from Kosovo.

"If the situation in the Presevo valley is destabilised, it will be a new step towards a Greater Albania," which would include territory populated by Albanians in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, he warned.

But Serbs and Albanians from the Presevo valley "do not want to get dragged into a conflict" he said, following talks with local officials from both ethnic communities.

He also said the Yugoslav government's attitude on the problem was "counter-productive," because it limits the access of local Albanians to institutions and restricts their rights.

Belgrade "should support them, not alienate them," he added.

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