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Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 19:38 GMT
Nato to reduce Kosovo buffer zone
Ethnic-Albanian rebels in Presevo valley
Armed groups are increasingly active in the zone
By Jonathan Marcus in Brussels

Yugoslavia has welcomed Nato's decision to reduce the buffer zone along the border between Kosovo and Serbia because of continuing attacks into Serbia by ethnic Albanian rebels.

The move follows demands by Belgrade to let the Yugoslav Army expel the guerrillas, who the Yugoslav authorities say have been using the zone as cover to attack a number of Serbian villages.

Speaking at Nato headquarters in Brussels, new United States Secretary of State Colin Powell called on armed Albanian groups to halt the violence.

Nato is increasingly concerned that these groups are seeking to destabilise the fragile peace in Kosovo.

The groups generally operate from the buffer zone between Kosovo and Southern Serbia.

Blunt warning

UCPMB rebel behind sand bags
Ethnic Albanian rebels train and patrol inside the zone
They have also recently stepped up their activities inside Macedonia and the authorities there have asked for urgent Nato help.

Yugoslavia applauded Nato's decision as a victory, with Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic describing it as "good news since it is obvious that our initiative for a reduction of the security zone has been accepted."

Mr Powell wasted no time in issuing a blunt warning to the ethnic Albanian insurgence.

"This is not the time to start up new conflict in Europe, this is not the time to resort to violence while we are seeing the spread of stability and peace throughout the region, and so these two areas are of great concern to us," he said.

America's continuing role

While Nato is proposing to phase out a significant part of the buffer zone between Kosovo and Southern Serbia, it will not do this until it receives assurances from the Belgrade government about its deployments and pattern of operations there.

Yugoslav soldier in the Presevo valley area
Yugoslav forces want to be able to police more of the border
Nato Secretary-General Lord Robertson spoke of the possibility of having observers to monitor what goes on.

And Mr Powell delivered a firm rebuff to those who fear that America's role in the Balkans may be diminishing under the new administration in Washington.

In a clear signal that Washington will stay the course, he said: " We went in together, we'll come out together."

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See also:

27 Feb 01 | Americas
Powell outlines Nato vision
23 Feb 01 | Europe
Tension mounts in Presevo valley
15 Feb 01 | Europe
Nato welcomes Serbian peace plans
02 Feb 01 | Europe
Guerrillas threaten fragile peace
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