Rising tensions between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have raised the specter of war in the Balkans once again. This time it’s Albanian guerrillas who are considered the aggressors, as violence has spilled over from the NATO protected zone into Serbia proper.
For the past two nights, Albanian guerrillas have shelled Serb police in a buffer zone just inside the Serbian border. No casualties were reported, but a top aide in Belgrade pledged today that “no means will be spared” to drive out the militants.
“Kosovo remains in crisis,” said U.N. administrator Bernard Kouchner. “The conflict between the two communities is not over.”
In late November, separatist Albanian militants killed four Serb policemen and took control of several key villages in the Presevo Valley, a three-mile buffer zone patrolled by American troops just inside the Serbian border.
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, the moderate nationalist who replaced strongman Slobodan Milosevic, responded by posting tanks at the border. About a week later NATO peacekeepers intercepted at truckload of weapons and military uniforms headed for Albanian guerillas. About 5,000 ethnic Albanians have crossed into Serbia from Kosovo to escape the escalating violence.
“It is urgent that all concerned parties try to act as quickly as possible so that Presevo does not get out of hand,” said Eric Morris, special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “The potential for something going really, really wrong is there.”
Ethnic Albanians, who vastly outnumber Serbs in Kosovo, have long demanded independence from Belgrade, especially after Serbs killed thousands of Albanian civilians under Milosevic’s campaign of “ethnic cleansing.” Now, a splinter group of the Kosovo Liberation Army appears to have launched an offensive aimed at taking the Presevo Valley as well.
Kostunica has blamed the U.S. and other Western nations recently for not doing more to stop the Albanian attacks. At a recent meeting of foreign ministers in Vienna, Kostunica seemed reluctant to talk with U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, even though the U.S. has offered his administration nearly $100 million in aid. Kostunica shook Albright’s hand briefly and exchanged a few words before hurrying off. Albright is widely disliked in Serbia where she is viewed as a symbol of the NATO bombing campaign in 1999.