Cease-fire Holds in Serbia but Doubt Remains on Who Declared it

Published November 26th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

The situation was calm in the disputed region along Serbia's border with Kosovo, a NATO spokesman said Sunday, but confusion remained over the nature of a cease-fire announced earlier by the alliance. 

"It's calm. There have been no reports of firing," Flight Lieutenant Mark Whitty, the acting chief spokesman for Kosovo's NATO-led peacekeeping force, told AFP. 

But the two parties to the conflict in the disputed Presevo valley area of southern Serbia, which ethnic Albanian separatists want to unite with neighboring Kosovo, appeared to contradict KFOR's announcement Saturday that it had overseen a temporary cease-fire deal. 

Bozo Prelevic, one of Serbia's three interior ministers, told the independent news agency Beta that his government did not negotiate with "Kosovar terrorists." 

Novica Zdravkovic, the chief of police in Vranje, whose officers fought for four days against the rebels last week and saw three of their colleagues killed, said he had heard nothing about any cease-fire deal. 

For his part, Shefket Musliu, the general commander of the guerrilla Liberation Army for Presevo, Medveda and Bujanovac (UCPMB), told AFP Saturday that the rebels had declared a unilateral cease-fire, but would respond if attacked. 

KFOR said Saturday that: "The Serbian ministry of interior police and the armed group of the Presevo valley agreed a cease-fire last night." 

Colonel Serge Labbe, who oversaw the discussions, said the provisional cease-fire would last 72 hours from 7:00 PM (1800 GMT) Friday, a time scale which corresponds exactly to the deadline given earlier by Prelevic for the situation to be resolved. 

Prelevic warned Friday that if NATO could not cut off the rebel supply routes from Kosovo, where KFOR is in charge of security, and end their campaign within three days, then Serb forces would return to the demilitarized zone along the border. 

The buffer zone is a product of the Military Technical Agreement signed in Kumanovo, Macedonia, in June last year ahead of the KFOR deployment in Kosovo. 

Under its terms, the Yugoslav army is not allowed into the three-mile (five-kilometer) wide zone, creating a power vacuum which has allowed the rebel movement to flourish. 

Serb police are allowed to patrol the zone, but they are not allowed to deploy weapons more powerful than a 12 millimeter heavy machine gun. 

Officers told AFP that they were outgunned by the rebels, who captured the border town of Konculj in an offensive launched Tuesday -- PRISTINA (AFP)  



© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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