Yugoslav Troops Retake Last Part of Kosovo Buffer Zone

From Reuters

Yugoslav forces peacefully reoccupied the last chunk of a buffer zone around Kosovo on Thursday, retaking control from ethnic Albanian guerrillas who had used the area as a base for a 16-month insurgency.

In a NATO-approved operation, 1,200 troops and special police moved back into a 35-square-mile slice of southern Serbia.

With that, Belgrade regained full control of the zone set up by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after its 1999 bombing campaign forced Yugoslav forces out of Kosovo, a province of Serbia, the main Yugoslav republic.

The guerrillas, who had taken advantage of the security void in the demilitarized zone to attack Serbian forces, agreed to disband, and most are now in Kosovo.

They had claimed to be battling Serbian repression of the large ethnic Albanian minority in the area.

In the village of Konculj, near the boundary with Kosovo, 70-year-old Ruzpi Serisi said that about half the 1,500 inhabitants had left in the last few days.

"They ran away because of fear," he said. "We are staying, but we are afraid too."

Serisi complained that a Serbian policeman had provocatively given a three-fingered Serbian salute as he drove through town, and he said others had their faces masked.

But local teacher Asim Azemi, 50, was optimistic. "If they don't provoke us, as they did in earlier days," he said, "there will be no problems."

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