"Zero tolerance" for armed Albanian groups, Serbia says

Other News Materials 20 February 2008 15:43 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Serbia on Wednesday issued a stern warning to armed ethnic Albanian groups active in the region that there would be no tolerance against any provocation.

Assistance Defence Minister Dusan Spasojevic, told journalists in Vienna that Serbia made clear to armed Albanian groups active in southern central Serbia that there would be "zero tolerance," a position supported by Serbia's international partners in the region.

"We have warned the groups if they are going to mess with the military they will be taken out in the most severe manner," Spasojevic said after a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

That warning excluded newly independent Kosovo, where Serbia said it would respect the authority of NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR) as set down by United Nations Security Council resolution 1244.

Between 1999 and 2001 an armed insurgency by ethnic Albanian groups took place in southern Serbian regions close to neighbouring Kosovo.

Spasojevic stressed that for the time being, Serbia did not regard Kosovo's declaration of independence as a military problem, but did not rule out a change of the prevailing view completely.

"On the other hand, the armed forces are under the command of the supreme commander, the government of Serbia, and we are ready to perform any task that is asked of the armed forces," he said.

"For the time being we are ordered to treat this as a political and legal problem."

Commenting on reports of violence flaring at border crossings with Kosovo since Sunday, Spasojevic said the situation was "stable," very emotional reactions by the local population had been expected.

Serbia reiterated its opposition to a new European Union-lead international force in Kosovo, stressing that it regarded KFOR as the only legitimate force in the region.

"We are not going to do anything to harm those partners who are protecting civilians in the region," he said.