Ivanov concerned over Kosovo developments

MOSCOW, March 17 (Itar-Tass) - Kosovo's current developments are calling for concern, because it is Albanian separatists who set the political mood there, Russian Foreign Minister told the State Duma lower house of parliament on Friday.

Ivanov recalled that the first anniversary of NATO's action in Kosovo would set in several days later. "Russia's reaction in this connection is well known. We qualified NATO's action as direct aggression against an independent state... Further contacts with NATO do not mean that we have changed our assessment," he said.

"NATO countries themselves have been recently thinking over the Yugoslavian events," he said, adding that the bombardments have lead to a blind alley instead of solving the province's problems. "NATO bet on war, and Belgrade did not show flexibility," he said.

Despite the announced demilitarization of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army, the territory is still full of armaments which are supplied there across the nearly uncontrolled borders, Ivanov said. Criminal groups are being formed of former members of the KLA, who have turned the territory into a transshipment point for narcotic drugs and a link in the international network of organized crime, he remarked.

The use of the peacemaking operation in Kosovo by Albanian extremists to camouflage ethnic cleansing of non-Albanians is the most alarming circumstance, Ivanov said. As a result of that, 350,000 people have had to leave Kosovo, according to information from Belgrade. The refugees are both Serbs and people who profess Islam. The core of the conflict is the striving of unbridled Albanian nationalists to form an ethnically cleansed state and to separate from Yugoslavia, Ivanov said. They stake on new aggravation of inter-ethnic relations, which would enable the appeal for assistance of NATO. "All that proves the need for decisive moves in order to prevent the situation's development towards an armed conflict. And that is quite possible," Ivanov remarked.

"Thanks to efforts, first and foremost Russian ones, the war was stopped," he said. The Russian Foreign Ministry is keeping a close contact with other departments and the parliament of Russia as regards the situation in Kosovo, Ivanov noted.

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