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Friday, 24 March, 2000, 04:04 GMT
Presevo rebels renounce military struggle
A British tank guards the border between Kosovo and Serbia
A British tank guards Kosovo's border with Serbia
Leaders of an Albanian rebel group in southern Serbia have pledged to seek a political rather than a military solution to the problems in their region.

We are against armed confrontation

Januz Musliu, Political Council for Presevo
Although they did not declare a unilateral ceasefire or promise to lay down weapons, Western diplomats have described the decision as a first step towards defusing tensions in the Presevo valley area near the border with Kosovo.

Many analysts have seen the area as potentially the next Balkan flashpoint.

"We are against armed confrontation," said the head of a newly created Political Council for Presevo, Januz Musliu.

"The council favours a political solution in collaboration with the international community to resolve the region's problems."

Click here to see a map of the area

The Political Council was described to reporters as a group of activists, but diplomats made clear they believed its members controlled the operations of an armed group which has emerged in the past few months, the UCPMB.

The UCPMB: active in towns of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja
The UCPMB: active in Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja
The Presevo valley area is estimated to be home to somewhere around 70,000 Albanians, many of whom have complained of the sort of harassment which afflicted Albanians in Kosovo before Nato's bombing campaign drove Serb forces out of the province last year.

Serb security forces and Albanians have clashed sporadically in the region over the past few months.

However, US officials have warned the rebels there will be no repeat of Nato's intervention in Kosovo.

This is a very important first step

Christopher Dell, head of US mission in Kosovo
Western powers have also made clear that they do not favour shifting Kosovo's borders to include the valley.

Mr Musliu made his statement in the eastern Kosovo city of Gnjilane after several hours of talks between the Presevo Valley leaders and Kosovo politician Hashim Thaci, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

US diplomats did not take part in the talks, but were present in an adjacent room.

"This is a very important first step," said the head of the US mission in Kosovo, Christopher Dell.

The diplomats said they had attended the talks only to make clear Washington's position, and had not made any concessions.

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23 Mar 00 | Europe
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24 Mar 00 | Europe
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16 Mar 00 | Europe
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Tension grows on Kosovo border
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