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Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 13:03 GMT
Presevo's uneasy peace
Kfor checkpoint
K-For has stepped up security checks in the area
By Jacky Rowland in Belgrade

An uneasy calm continues to reign in the Presevo valley in south-eastern Serbia.

Security forces and Albanian separatists operating in the border region are respecting an internationally brokered ceasefire, after weeks of escalating clashes.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica says he wants to give negotiations a chance to resolve the crisis, and there are no immediate plans to deploy the army and police in a demilitarised zone along the boundary

But Belgrade is reserving the option to send in the troops if the rebels resume their operations.

And the small town of Bujanovac is already swarming with police and army troops since the recent upsurge of violence along the boundary with Kosovo.

General Nebojsa Pavkovic, the top army commander has come down to the border to see the situation for himself.

"We are a factor for stability here and we act as a deterrent" he said. "We are not preparing for any kind of clashes."

We are all very frightened...the shooting is very near.

Miloradka Velickovic
But in a small farming village near the front line, local Serbs do not feel reassured. The nearest rebel bases are only a few kilometres away and people can hear the shooting from their houses.

Some families have left the village but one elderly woman, Miloradka Velickovic, is among those who have stayed:

"We are all very frightened," she says. "The shooting is very near. You can see that the children are afraid."

Back in Bujanovac, Arsim Asani and his friends play cards in their local cafe. The population of the town is about half Albanian and half Serb.

Arsim belongs to the Albanian community and says he hasn't had any problems with his Serb neighbours:

"I don't think the situation on the border depends on the people who live here or on the civilians. Basically, I think it all depends on the politicians," he said.

'We are occupied from all sides'

Milan Jovanovic, the local leader of the student resistance movement OTPOR campaigned long and hard against the Milosevic regime.

UCPMB guerillas
The rebels say they are acting in self defence
He complains that the international community is not being even-handed in its treatment of Serbia and Kosovo:

"We are occupied from all sides," he said. "I wait for a bombing every moment here. I'm weak now . . . I'm not aggressor."

The international community does not want an escalation in the border conflict and above all, do not want a diplomatic conflict with the new Serbian leadership.

The authorities in Belgrade seem to share these sentiments. But senior officials say they reserve the right to send the troops into the buffer zone if the Albanian rebels do not withdraw.

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See also:

20 Oct 00 | Europe
Belgrade changes worry Kosovo
21 Sep 00 | Europe
The Kosovo factor
14 Oct 00 | Europe
Mine kills Serb police
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