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The BBC's Bob Berry
"The kidnappers have set a deadline of three days"
 real 56k

Monday, 1 January, 2001, 02:09 GMT
Six Serbs taken hostage
Yugoslav traffic policeman checks the vehicle of an unknown ethnic Albanian man
Both sides agreed to remove checkpoints
Ethnic Albanian guerrillas have abducted six Serb civilians in a buffer zone which runs alongside Serbia's provincial boundary with Kosovo.

The six men were taken from their cars at a checkpoint as they entered the buffer zone from United Nations-administered Kosovo on Sunday.


This can only harm our relations

Mayor of Presevo
The rebels, thought to belong to the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, have reportedly given the Serb authorities three days to hand over 120 Albanians held in Serb prisons in return for the men's release.

The incident comes a day after Nato brokered an accord between Serbian authorities and the ethnic Albanian rebels to reduce tension in the region.

The deal included agreements from both sides to remove checkpoints and pull back from their positions around the town of Veliki Trnovac on the edge of the buffer zone.

"After yesterday's agreement, this is not good. This can only harm our relations," said Riza Halimi, the ethnic Albanian mayor of the town of Presevo on the Serbian side of the boundary.

Rebels' demands

The kidnap took place at about 1600 (1400 GMT) on Sunday near the village of Cerevajka, at the Mucibaba crossing point, according to an international official in Kosovo.

UCPMB rebels
Rebels have been active in the zone for a year
The ethnic Albanian guerrilla group, which has been operating in the buffer zone for the past year, stopped a convoy of four Serb cars.

They later released elderly members of the group but kept six men: Gradimir Stojanovic, Ivan Cvetkovic, Jovica Stajic, Jovica Stojkovic, Dusko Popovic and one unidentified man.

The rebels have demanded that 20 prisoners are released in return for each hostage.

Serbia's Beta news agency said two of the kidnapped Serbs were from a village near the town of Gnjilane in south eastern Kosovo.

Tension

The five km (three mile) wide buffer zone, which runs along the Serbian side of the boundary, was set up as part of the deal that ended Nato's 1999 bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

Under the accord, only lightly-armed local Serb police are allowed inside the zone.

This has made the zone an ideal base for the ethnic Albanian rebels.

Four Serb police were killed in clashes with the guerrillas in November.

The guerrillas say they are defending ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Presevo Valley area from police harassment. But Belgrade says they are terrorists attempting to join the region onto ethnic Albanian-dominated Kosovo.

The government has won increasing public support since reformist Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica came to power in October.

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See also:

30 Dec 00 | Europe
Deal removes Serbia checkpoints
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
24 Dec 00 | Europe
Milosevic 'to face justice'
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