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Balkan Violence Troubles NATO

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 8, 1998 – NATO officials are voicing concerns over the deteriorating situation in Kosovo and what they're calling "deplorable violence" in Bosnia.

The North Atlantic Council issued a statement April 30, expressing "profound concern" over the situation in Kosovo and the risk of escalating conflict in the region.

At least 16 ethnic Albanians died in late April during severe fighting between the Serb-run federal army and pro-independence ethnic Albanians on Yugoslavia's southern border with Albania. Thousands of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians in the capital marched in protest, and regional officials declared the situation "explosive."

The North Atlantic Council stated it is "firmly opposed to independence for Kosovo and to a continuation of the unacceptable status quo." It condemned the recent violence, particularly the excessive use of force by the Yugoslav army and the proliferation of arms in the territory. Council members "reject all use of violence, either by state security forces to suppress political dissent or by terrorist groups to seek political change," the statement said.

The council called on Belgrade authorities and leaders of the Kosovar-Albanian community to prevent further violence and to begin urgently to resolve the differences between them.

Ethnic violence between Bosnian Serbs and Croats in northwest Bosnia in late April also heightened NATO's concern. NATO Secretary General Javier Solana issued a statement April 27. "I deplore the recent acts of intimidation and violence which have been targeted against those who wish to return to their homes," he said. "Such acts are blatant violations of the Dayton Peace accords, which all the parties are obliged to uphold."

NATO forces evacuated Croatian priests and refugees after a Serb mob of about 200 attacked a ruined church in the northwest Bosnian town of Derventa, April 23. The next day, about 1,500 rioting Bosnian Croats set buildings on fire and overturned U.N. vehicles, leaving 19 people injured in the town of Drvar. NATO officials said the Croats were angry over the Serb attack in Derventa. NATO peacekeepers fired warning shots to break up the riot.

Violence continued the following day when Bosnian Serbs set up roadblocks, stopping buses carrying Croats to Plehane. In Drvar, there were reports of Croats roaming the area telling recently returned Serbs to leave. About 160 Serbs whose houses in Drvar were burned in the last few days left in buses headed for Serb-held Banja Luka.

Solana called upon local and national authorities to take concrete steps to prevent such acts and to promote the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes. He said the NATO stabilization force will take firm action against those seeking to undermine any aspect of the peace agreement, including the legitimate return of refugees.

Other recent incidents exemplify the danger NATO forces in Bosnia continue to face. Swedish and Danish forces seized 12 tons of illegal weapons and ammunition during a six-hour raid of four sites in northern Bosnia April 24. NATO officials said they made the raids because an amnesty offered drew few weapon turn-ins.

April 28, a mine blast killed one civilian and injured two NATO soldiers. The civilian brought an anti-tank and several anti-personnel mines to a NATO base in a Sarajevo suburb in response to a countrywide amnesty on turning in explosive devices. The two NATO soldiers were handling the explosives when the mines went off. Both were reported in stable condition.

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