BUJANOVAC, Yugoslavia – In a test for Yugoslavia’s young democracy, Serb police on Friday gave NATO troops in Kosovo a 72-hour deadline to stop incursions by ethnic Albanian militants over the border into Serbia.
A show of force by Serbian troops could spark friction between Yugoslavia and the Western alliance that is running Kosovo, but if new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica does nothing, he could risk being portrayed at home as incapable of dealing with ethnic Albanian extremists.
Ethnic Albanian rebels have taken control of several strategic points and a key road in the buffer zone between Kosovo and central Serbia in an assault that started Tuesday.
The rebels have managed to push Serb police out of much of the three-mile demilitarized zone, but on Friday the police vowed to quash the offensive. The rebels are fighting for independence of both Kosovo and the so-called Presevo Valley – the buffer zone – in southern Serbia.
“Police have issued a 72-hour deadline for the attacks to stop,” said a Serb interior minister, Bozo Prelevic. “We have received firm assurances that KFOR will prevent any incursions (from Kosovo) and disarm and arrest the terrorists who have come from Kosovo.” KFOR is an acronym for Kosovo’s international peacekeeping force.
He said that in case NATO fails to prevent the ethnic Albanian incursions and force the militants back into Kosovo, Serb police “will return to the territory of the republic of Serbia (in the buffer zone) with the means that are available.”
Prelevic said the countdown started Friday at 7 p.m. local time, meaning the deadline would expire on Monday.
Kostunica, returning form a European Union summit in Zagreb, Croatia, said: “The first step to solve the new crisis in Kosovo is to seal, hermetically close, the administrative border between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia … to prevent further attacks by ethnic Albanian terrorists who shoot at our policemen.”
In a statement, KFOR called on both sides “to exercise caution and restraint” and said it was “encouraged by the temporary cease-fire declaration” announced by the Belgrade government.
The statement apparently referred to the 72-hour deadline announced by Serb police, indicating they will not intervene until then.
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