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Tension, Danger Mark Kosovo Mission

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BUDAPEST, Hungary, July 12, 1999 – The situation in Kosovo remains dangerous and it is likely to remain so for some time to come, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen warned July 12.

Appearing at a press conference at the national defense ministry here, the secretary responded to reports of three recent attacks against U.S. peacekeepers. About 5,000 U.S. troops are deployed in the southern Serb province of the 7,000 promised for Operation Joint Guardian.

"Tensions and passions run high" as ethnic Albanians attempt to resettle among the remaining Serbs in Kosovo," Cohen said. "With every day's disclosures of the kind of slaughter Serb forces engaged in in Kosovo, I think those passions will continue to be enflamed."

No U.S. service members were hurt in the three incidents, near U.S. sector headquarters in the city of Gnjilane, according to press reports. In all three cases, U.S. officials said it was unclear who had fired on the troops.

Cohen called on all KFOR members to be ready to deal with snipers and other threats. "KFOR will remain neutral and balanced in its securing of the peace and maintaining good order throughout," he said. "But it's still a very dangerous environment and all of the forces there must be prepared to encounter that kind of danger."

About half the 55,000 troops committed by NATO member and partner nations are in place in Kosovo. The latest incidents, Cohen said, reinforce his belief "it's all the more important that the remaining forces that are to be contributed to KFOR arrive there as soon as possible."

Cohen met with local government leaders in Budapest before visiting U.S. service members at Taszar Air Base in southwest Hungary. The stop was the third leg of a seven- day trip to Europe.

From Hungary, Cohen was scheduled to visit Albania, Greece and Turkey before returning to Washington July 15. His Albania visit was canceled because most U.S. troops sent there in recent months have redeployed either to home or to Kosovo. Albania was replaced by a stop in Tuzla, Bosnia, where 6,000 U.S. service members serve in the NATO stabilization force.

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