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Friday, 16 February, 2001, 19:20 GMT
Analysis: Serbs under threat
British marines on patrol on the Serbia-Kosovo border
K-For troops are deployed to protect Serbs
By diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

The latest bomb attacks on Serbs in Kosovo illustrate the problems that Nato-led forces are having keeping the lid on the continuing violence - most of it now apparently carried out by ethnic Albanian extremists.

It is a sign of how international sympathy has shifted

The Serb minority in Kosovo is now huddled together in isolated enclaves for protection against attack.

In some cases, ethnic Albanians want revenge for the atrocities committed earlier by Serbian security forces.

But there is also a concerted campaign by Albanian extremists to drive the Serbs out altogether.

Guerrilla force

Troops of the Nato-led force K-For often escort Serbs making trips to and from Serbia, but they do not offer guaranteed protection.

Bombed out bus
Devastation on the road between Nis and Pristina
In northern Kosovo in particular, K-For has often been the target of violent protests by Serbs.

However, the main threat to the territory's fragile status quo comes from the Albanian side.

Several hundred Albanian guerrillas now operate in a long stretch of the five-kilometre-wide buffer zone between Kosovo and Serbia.

From there, especially in the Presevo Valley in the south-east, they have been harrying Serbian forces and then retreating into the zone which the Serbs are forbidden to enter.

Search for stability

On Thursday, the new democratically-elected authorities in Belgrade presented to Nato a peace plan to stabilise the region.

Ethnic Albanian rebel between Gnjilane, Kosovo and Bujanovac, Serbia
Hundreds of Albanian guerrillas remain under arms in the area
They are offering negotiations and better treatment for Serbia's Albanian minority.

But a key proposal is to narrow or eliminate the buffer zone so that Serbian forces can regain control of villages and roads controlled by the rebels.

It is a sign of how international sympathy has shifted that Nato Secretary-General George Robertson gave a qualified welcome to the plan as a break with the past.

But Lord Robertson added that premature changes to the buffer zone risked making matters worse. They must not create a vacuum or lead to new fighting.

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See also:

14 Feb 01 | Europe
UN police come under attack
15 Feb 01 | Europe
Nato welcomes Serbian peace plans
29 Jan 01 | Europe
Kostunica warns of fresh fighting
16 Mar 00 | Europe
Kosovo one year on
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