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The BBC's Paul Anderson
"Neither side met face to face"
 real 56k

Saturday, 30 December, 2000, 14:23 GMT
Deal removes Serbia checkpoints
Yugoslav traffic policeman checks the vehicle of an unknown ethnic Albanian man
Under the deal, both sides must remove checkpoints
Serbian police and ethnic Albanians have removed two checkpoints in southern Serbia, as part of an agreement to reduce tension along Kosovo's northern boundary.

The deal came in talks sponsored by the international K-For peacekeepers, to try to stop weeks of attacks in Serb-controlled territory by ethnic Albanian guerrillas based in Kosovo.

Nato officials issued a four-point document detailing the accord after saying they had secured verbal agreements from both sides.


We made a big step towards a peaceful solution to the crisis in this region

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic
The agreement came early on Saturday as Serbian officials and ethnic Albanian representatives held talks in the southern Serbian town of Bujanovac.

The violence has been focused on a 5 km (3 mile) demilitarised zone, which was set up in 1999 as a buffer between UN-administered Kosovo, and the rest of Serbia.

Nato-led peacekeepers have no authority in the zone and armed ethnic Albanians have launched attacks there, killing four Serb policemen and seizing several villages.

Serb villagers have been calling for the Yugoslav army to protect them by defying international restrictions and entering the demilitarised zone, which correspondents say is home to about 1,000 Albanian separatists.

Serb 'hesitation'

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said: "We made a big step towards a peaceful solution to the crisis in this region."

UCPMB rebels
Ethnic Albanian rebels are active in the zone
The pact was signed by Shawn Sullivan, a political adviser to the top Nato official in Kosovo, who had been acting as a mediator between the two opposing sides for the last two days. Another Nato representative, Colonel Serge Labbe, also put his name to the document.

The Serbs were reluctant to sign the document themselves because they feared their signature would amount to a recognition of the ethnic Albanian rebels operating in the area, sources close to the talks said.

Key pledges

The agreement calls for both sides to remove their checkpoints at the entrance to the village of Veliki Trnovac.

The accord says only Serb traffic police would be stationed in the area. It also provides for complete freedom of movement on the road linking Bujanovac with Gnjilane in Kosovo.

The two sides also pledged not to resort to violence.

"We have started a process of demilitarisation of the armed groups of ethnic Albanians," said Mr Sullivan, after signing the document. "A lasting peace can only be reached through peaceful means."

It is not clear if the talks include representatives of the guerrillas who want independence for traditionally ethnic Albanian parts of Serbia near Kosovo.

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See also:

26 Dec 00 | Europe
Yugoslav ultimatum on guerrillas
17 Dec 00 | Europe
UN under fire near Serbia hotspot
29 Nov 00 | Europe
Presevo's uneasy peace
17 Dec 00 | Europe
Serbs shot during Kosovo protest
24 Dec 00 | Europe
Milosevic 'to face justice'
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