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U.S. Says Serb Attack Unjustified

December 24, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Serb assault on an Albanian rebel stronghold in Kosovo was condemned Thursday by the State Department as unjustified.

Concerned with increased violence in the Serbian province, the department urged Serbs and ethnic Albanians to act with restraint and avoid escalating the conflict.

Americans were warned, meanwhile, not to travel to Albania, and those living in the eastern European country were advised to consider leaving.

The security situation in Albania remains unstable, the department said. The northeastern area of the country, including the towns of Tropoja and Bajram Curri, and the area near the Kosovo border remains outside effective government control, according to a travel warning.

The U.S. Embassy in Tirana suspended most operations last summer and can offer only emergency services to Americans, the department said.

Brushing aside NATO and U.S. warnings, Serb tanks and troops struck Podujevo, a Kosovo Albanian rebel stronghold, triggering what both sides called fierce fighting and setting back U.S.-led peace efforts.

In a statement issued by a spokesman, Lee McClenny, the department condemned the military action begun Wednesday by combined forces of the Yugoslav army and internal security police near the town.

The statement condemned all breaches of the ceasefire, including provocative attacks committed by elements of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which seeks to pry Kosovo away from Yugoslavia and attach it to Albania.

Belgrade’s ``disproportionate and indiscriminate reaction, however, cannot be justified,″ the statement said.

The Clinton administration hopes to persuade the two sides to agree on a restoration of self-rule but not independence for Kosovo, whose population is nearly 90 percent ethnic Albanian.

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