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The BBC's Mark Urban
"Many Albanians believe they're trying to suck Nato into southern Serbia"
 real 28k

Nato spokesman Jamie Shea
"We are not in Kosovo to facilitate cross-border attacks in the Presevo valley"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 18:02 GMT
Serbian border tension growing

Fears are growing of renewed conflict between Kosovo Albanians and Serb security forces, following the emergence of a new Albanian militia in southern Serbia.

Kosovo: Special Report
Recent weeks have seen a series of clashes between Serbian police and the new militia in the Presevo valley, near the boundary with Kosovo.

The group styles itself as a liberation army for 70,000 Albanians who live under direct Yugoslav rule in the Presevo valley.

The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Belgrade says the Yugoslav army has sent troops to the area, near the buffer zone on the boundary with Kosovo in what it says are regular spring exercises.

UCPMB
The badge of the shadowy new force
The Nato-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, K-For, is also sending 1,000 extra troops to the region for manoeuvres.

Amid this mood of insecurity, Russia has now urged major industrial nations to take action to stop growing tension in Kosovo from spreading to southern Serbia.

Moscow's call follows a warning last week by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright of the dangers posed by extremists in the region.

New force

Correspondents say the new Albanian force is an offshoot of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), though leaders of the now-disarmed KLA deny any formal links.

K-For peacekeepers
K-For is putting more troops into Kosovo
The new militia has the initials UCPMB, the last three letters standing for Presevo valley, and the villages of Medveda and Bujanovac.

Large numbers of the region's ethnic Albanians have fled the violence into Kosovo.

Nato spokesman Jamie Shea said his organisation was "very worried" about the situation.

But he told the BBC that violence on the scale of previous years' was not likely to be repeated.


We do have levers and, believe me, we're going to use those levers

Nato spokesman Jamie Shea
He said that any trouble could be "nipped in the bud", because Nato-led troops were already in place on the ground.

And he warned Albanian militants that Nato would not allow operations aimed at destabilising the Presevo valley.

Asked if Albanian guerrillas were listening to Nato's warnings, Mr Shea said the Kosovo Albanians knew very well they had to remain the solution, rather than becoming the source of the problem.

"They are really shooting themselves in the foot if they try to conduct provocations and not co-operate with us."

Troops were already busy sealing off the boundary between Kosovo and the Presevo valley, effectively curtailing the flow of people and arms, he added.

Russia's warning

But in a letter to his counterparts in the Group of Eight nations, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov expressed Moscow's concern that the "very critical situation" in southern Serbia could ignite a new war.

The country's ambassador to the United Nations, Sergei Lavrov, told a news conference late on Monday that the letter had called for urgent steps to prevent the violence from spreading.

Mr Ivanov had urged the world community to ensure that Nato-led forces in Kosovo did "not allow provocations", Mr Lavrov said.

Russia's warning came on the same day that long-stalled talks with Nato were due to resume.

Mr Ivanov had warned in his letter against "a repeat of the scenario of last year", Mr Lavrov added.

Peace deal

In March 1999, efforts to reach a peace deal between Kosovo Albanians and the Yugoslav government failed.

Nato launched an 11-week bombing campaign to halt a Serb-led crackdown on Kosovo Albanians.

The United Nations and Nato-led forces, including Russian troops, took over Kosovo at the end of the bombing raids.

Since then, Russia has objected to many of the measures the UN administrator in Kosovo has initiated.

The Group of Eight, which drafted an accord at the end of the bombings, is made up of Russia, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada.

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See also:

14 Mar 00 | Europe
Fears of new Balkan flashpoint
14 Mar 00 | Europe
Yugoslav reservists protest
14 Mar 00 | Europe
Serbia's potential for violence
06 Mar 00 | Europe
Tension grows on Kosovo border
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