US top brass warn ethnic Albanian rebels on Kosovo-Serbia border

CAMP BONDSTEEL, May 2, 2000 -- (AFP) U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen warned ethnic Albanian rebels in the neutral border zone with Serbia against stirring up trouble during a visit here Monday.

Cohen said Washington was following the situation in the demilitarized zone on Kosovo's border with the rest of southern Serbia "very closely" and "strengthening our capability of interrupting the flow of weapons that may be transported illegally."

U.S. troops, who form the backbone of the KFOR multinational peacekeeping force in the eastern sector of Kosovo, cracked down on Kosovo bases used by the rebels as training camps and weapons dumps in March, two months after the group first appeared.

They also intercepted last month major weapons stashes headed for southern Serbia's Presevo Valley, where some 70,000 ethnic Albanians live.

General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff joined Cohen on his two-hour visit to troops here. He said the head of NATO forces in Europe had the authority to enter the five kilometre (three mile) wide neutral zone "if necessary."

He said NATO's European commander "will make a decision in conjunction with KFOR's commander if they think it is necessary to go into the GSZ. They have the authority to do it."

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said that a special unit of 120 long-range surveillance troops would deploy "today or tomorrow" along the administrative boundary facing Serbia's Presevo Valley.

Ethnic Albanian guerrillas have clashed on several occasions with Serbian security forces in the area this year, leaving several dead and wounded on both sides.

The new reconnaissance troops "operate in small teams, they will improve our eyes and the ears and the surveillance capabilities to find out what's going on," said Bacon.

But he said the rebels, who call themsleves the Liberation Army for Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac (UCPMB) after the main towns in the area, were "a relatively small number of people."

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