Nato's Robertson warns of ethnic cantons in Kosovo

PRISTINA, Jul 19, 2000 -- (Reuters) NATO Secretary-General George Robertson warned Kosovo Albanians on Tuesday that violence against Serbs risked splitting the province up into ethnic cantons.

Robertson said NATO, like leaders of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, opposed cantonization, but it could become the only solution allowing Serbs and other minorities to remain in the province in the face of attacks against them.

"We'll protect these communities. If it involves building walls round them, barbed wire round them, giving them the protection they need, then we will do it," Robertson told a news conference in Kosovo'sprovincial capital Pristina.

"If people want 'enclavization' or cantonization as a result of that, it will be their fault, not our fault."

Ethnic Albanian leaders fiercely oppose cantonization, seeing it as a model which would violate Kosovo's territorial integrity by dividing the province into self-governing units.

Since NATO and the United Nations took over responsibility for Kosovo in June last year, Serbs and other minorities have been the targets of daily violent attacks by ethnic Albanians seeking vengeance for Serb repression.

More than 150,000 Serbs have fled the province, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Many others have left their homes and grouped together in heavily guarded enclaves inside Kosovo.

"The circumstances are leading to 'enclavization' because that is the only way that minorities can be protected from the extremists who want to continue the violence against them," said Robertson, on a one-day visit to Kosovo with NATO ambassadors.

"But people can stop that. If they don't want enclaves created, if they don't want cantonization, then it can be stopped," he added. "The violence stops, the cantonization, the 'enclavization', stops as well."

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