Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

NATO and Serbia Unite in Disarming Kosovo Rebels ; If Pact Holds, Ethnic- Albanian Rebels Will Turn in All Weapons by Next Week. A Model for Macedonia?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

NATO and Serbia Unite in Disarming Kosovo Rebels ; If Pact Holds, Ethnic- Albanian Rebels Will Turn in All Weapons by Next Week. A Model for Macedonia?

Article excerpt

The streets and highways of southern Serbia's Presevo Valley are dotted with brightly colored posters that, after 16 months of sporadic fighting, hold out a new hope for this war-torn region.

"We don't want our children to die. We don't want to spend the rest of our lives in hatred," they say in Albanian and Serbian.

Following an internationally brokered peace deal that was signed Monday, some 4,000 Serbian troops yesterday began returning to a sensitive "buffer zone" region along the Kosovo border that has served as an Albanian rebel stronghold since 1999.

The peace deal is part of NATO's latest Balkans strategy: to support the Yugoslav and Macedonian governments' efforts to stamp out their respective Albanian insurgencies while promoting protection of minority rights and power sharing.

Many Albanians in southern Serbia say they are disillusioned by the decision of Shefqet Musliu, and other rebel leaders, to demobilize, but they're glad that the fighting is over. At least, they hope it is. Yesterday at press time, there were unconfirmed reports that a rebel commander had been killed in the buffer zone. If Serbian troops were involved, the peace deal could unravel.

Hundreds of rebels have already turned their guns over to NATO troops on the Kosovo border, while many more are waiting until the May 31 deadline. Albanian rebels had hoped that NATO, following precedents in Bosnia and Kosovo, would eventually establish another international protectorate in southern Serbia. But with Slobodan Milosevic in jail and reformers in power in Belgrade, NATO has instead backed Yugoslavia's government.

Albanian rebel leaders had little choice but to accept a peace deal. A fierce battle in the village of Oraovica 10 days ago showed them that the international community was willing to allow the Yugoslav Army to engage the rebels in areas populated by civilians.

In the following days, American and other diplomats made clear that if the rebels didn't put down their weapons, they would have to face the Yugoslav Army in the 3-mile wide buffer zone.

For Albanian leaders in Kosovo, the relatively small guerrilla army in southern Serbia was becoming a political liability. …

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