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Balkan summit slams extremists in Serbia

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SKOPJE, Macedonia (Reuters) — A Balkan summit strongly condemned ethnically motivated extremism in and near Kosovo but stopped short of openly blaming ethnic Albanians.

In a joint declaration obtained by Reuters, the leaders of eight Balkan nations also said today they expected Yugoslavia's new reformist leadership to release political prisoners and cooperate with the U.N. war crimes tribunal.

"We have strongly condemned the violent and illegal terrorist actions by the ethnically motivated extremist armed groups in South Serbia," said the text, finalized after lengthy negotiations at the end of the summit Friday.

A draft declaration had originally blamed "Albanian extremist groups," but officials close to the drafting said that phrase was changed after objections from Albania.

The violence that has surged recently both in Kosovo and in southern Serbia's Presevo Valley is seen by most Western and Balkan leaders as fomented by Albanian radicals.

Ethnic Albanian guerrillas in the Presevo Valley say they are fighting against Serb police persecution. Both NATO and Serb officials have urged them to lay down their arms.

The summit declaration also urged Yugoslavia to push ahead with democratic reforms after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic and to cooperate with the international court pursuing war criminals. The court has indicted the former Yugoslav president.

"We expect that the issues such as the release of the political prisoners and missing persons will be addressed without delay," the declaration also said.

Hundreds of ethnic Albanians detained during the Kosovo war remain in Serbian prisons. Many Kosovo Albanians are still missing from the conflict, as are many Serbs who disappeared after the war as a wave of ethnic Albanian vengeance for Serb repression swept across the province.

The declaration is to be signed by summit participants Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey and Romania and top European Union officials later Friday.