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Serbs Block Roads Near Kosovo

December 14, 2000

BUJANOVAC, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Thousands of angry Serbs stood vigil at blockaded roads near the Kosovo border Thursday, demanding a meeting with Yugoslavia’s president and the ouster of militant ethnic Albanians from the region.

Independence-minded Albanians took control of strategic points in the three-mile-wide demilitarized zone that separates Kosovo from the rest of Serbia nearly a month ago. Pressure is rising on President Vojislav Kostunica to use force against the rebels.

Several thousand Serbs stayed through the night near parked trucks, garbage containers and burning tires on roads to Bujanovac. The protesters, who put up the blockades Wednesday, also shut down the rail line and main roads linking Serbia with Macedonia and Greece to the south.

A key ally to Kostunica, Zoran Djindjic, told the independent Beta news agency that the crisis threatens the entire Balkan region. He said it is ``imperative″ to react ``immediately and without compromise.″

In neighboring Macedonia, NATO officials stepped up border patrols to prevent arms from being smuggled to the militants. Maj. Gen. Volker Loew said some weapons and ammunition for the militants had come from Albania, through Macedonia.

Ethnic Albanians make up the vast majority of the population in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia’s main republic. Kosovo has been under international control since last year, and many residents want full independence for not only Kosovo but also the heavily ethnic Albanian Presevo Valley region in nearby Serbia proper.

In their offensive last month, the rebels killed four Serb policemen and took control of several villages in the demilitarized zone. The extremists have also attacked Serbs in Kosovo. The Tanjug news agency reported Thursday that a Serb was killed in the town of Kosovska Vitina late Wednesday.

Djindjic, who is likely to become the next prime minister of Serbia, claimed the Albanian extremists are planning a new offensive next week, when parliamentary elections in Serbia are scheduled. He urged international consent for Serb security forces to drive the rebels out of the buffer zone.

``It is not realistic to expect that the international community rush into the fire for us,″ Djindjic said. ``The maximum we should expect ... is a consent that we do our job on our territory.″

There have been disagreements in Kostunica’s pro-democracy coalition, which ousted former President Slobodan Milosevic in October, over how to deal with the crisis. Kostunica has urged restraint and appealed for help from NATO forces to stop the rebel attacks.

Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic said Thursday that the government wants the NATO to expel the rebels from the buffer zone. But NATO has repeatedly said it has no mandate to intervene in the buffer zone, and any intervention by Serb police would be a violation of the peace agreement.

Kostunica appealed Wednesday for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on the issue. The council members responded by condemning rebel violence and scheduling a meeting for next week.