Newsday - Belgrade seeks return to Kosovo

Monday December 27

By Philippa Fletcher

BELGRADE (Reuters) - The Belgrade authorities said Monday their security forces would return to Kosovo one way or another and that Russia and China might stop international peacekeepers remaining in the province after next June.

``With God's help, don't mind me saying, this people and this army of ours will return to their ancient cradle, the sacred Serbian land of Kosovo,'' said Vladimir Lazarevic, the commander of the army corps that withdrew from Kosovo in June.

Lazarevic heads the Pristina Corps, based in central Serbia since NATO-led peacekeeping troops took over the shattered majority ethnic Albanian province under an agreement with Belgrade ending 78 days of NATO air strikes.

His statement in the leading pro-government daily Politika appeared to be part of a new campaign by the government to bolster its position, amid growing pressure on the economy and isolation from the West, which wants Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to step down.

Yugoslav army commanders have periodically threatened to send their forces back to Kosovo to protect Serbs and other non-Albanians who have come under attack since NATO deployed to end a decade of Serb repression of Kosovo's Albanians.

Lazarevic said the forces were unlikely to return under the current agreement with the West, which states that a few hundred Yugoslav personnel may patrol border posts and Serb heritage sites in Kosovo but does not specify a date for their return.

NATO, which commands the heavily-armed, 50,000-strong KFOR peacekeeping force for Kosovo, deployed mainly within the tiny province, has said that for the time being any return of Yugoslav personnel would only destabilize it.

``It is possible that China and Russia would veto a decision on extending the KFOR and UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo) mandate that expires next year,'' Politika quoted Lazarevic as saying.

Milosevic Seeks Allies In Battle With West

The U.N. Security Council resolution 1244 of June 10 states that UNMIK and KFOR will operate for 12 months initially and then continue ``unless the Security Council decides otherwise.''

Russia and China, which both have veto power in the Security Council, sharply condemned the NATO air strikes and Belgrade sees them as allies against the West, which says sanctions against Yugoslavia will stay until Milosevic steps down.

Yugoslav officials have said they have held talks with the two countries in recent weeks and received offers of aid.

Moscow and Beijing have criticised the security situation in Kosovo but given no sign they will try to end the peacekeepers' mandate or adjust it to include Yugoslav security forces.

``Another option is to have Yugoslav security forces incorporated into the international peacekeeping forces of, a possibly, different structure,'' Lazarevic said.

``I hope as a soldier and a citizen that Serbia and Yugoslavia won't be forced to resort to the last option of using all means available to return to Kosovo, in order to put an end to the genocide against the province's Serbs and Montenegrins.''

Serbian Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic raised the same issue at the weekend.

``Our country has been insisting on the return of police to Kosovo from the very moment the agreement was signed and the U.N. Security Council resolution was reached,'' Stojiljkovic told a New Year reception for retired police officers, the Blic daily reported.

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