clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Ethnic Albanians reject NATO buffer-zone plan

BUJANOVAC, Yugoslavia — Ethnic Albanian rebels refused Sunday to accept NATO plans to let Yugoslav soldiers return to a buffer zone along the boundary with Kosovo, complicating efforts to forge a cease-fire in the volatile region.

The Western alliance wants to send Yugoslav troops into the southern end of the 3-mile-wide buffer zone to curb weapons smuggling from Kosovo to ethnic Albanian insurgents in Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, and in nearby Macedonia.

However, the alliance first needs to negotiate a cease-fire between Yugoslav forces and ethnic Albanian rebels of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, who operate in the zone.

A NATO special envoy, Pieter Feith, failed Saturday to win ethnic Albanian approval of a plan to let a Yugoslav special police unit close to the village of Trnovo, at the edge of the zone, near the spot where Kosovo, the rest of Serbia, and Macedonia meet.

Feith met with Yugoslav authorities in Bujanovac on Sunday and was expected to confer with ethnic Albanians again Monday. But the NATO plan faced stiff opposition.

The ethnic Albanian mayor of Trnovo, Galip Beqiri, said Sunday the rebels saw "no point in continuing talks" that would bring Yugoslav troops into the zone. He claimed Yugoslav police robbed and beat ethnic Albanian residents when they evacuated the village last year.

A rebel leader known as Commander Leshi told reporters the guerrillas were "categorically against the Serbs coming back" into the buffer zone. However, he left open the possibility that they might accept some form of Yugoslav presence "monitored either by (Kosovo peacekeepers) or the international community."

The buffer zone was established in 1999 when NATO-led peacekeepers entered Kosovo after the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, which ended former President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanians in the province.