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NATO Ready to Commit More Troops to Kosovo

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By Kurt Schork

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Yugoslavia (Reuters) - NATO said Thursday the alliance was in control of the situation in Kosovo but was ready to commit more troops to deal with short-term problems in the troubled province.

''It should not be assumed that because there are one or two flashpoints, the majority of Kosovo is somehow in flames. That is not true,'' NATO Secretary General George Robertson said in Zagreb after meeting Croatian officials.

U.S. peacekeepers in the province said they had swept through eastern Kosovo Wednesday, seizing quantities of cached arms, ammunition and uniforms in an attempt to seal the border with Serbia to insurgents.

Yugoslavia is complaining that ethnic Albanian insurgents, operating from bases in Kosovo, are destabilizing the Presevo valley in southwestern Serbia.

''Our soldiers searched buildings believed to contain weapons and explosives using search dogs. We turned up a lot of stuff and we detained nine suspects,'' U.S Major Debbie Allen said.

''This won't be the last time. Every thing we find that's suspicious we'll act upon,'' Allen said.

Contraband seized included 22 crates of ammunition and more than 200 uniforms, mortar tubes, hand grenades, a few rifles, mines, rucksacks, sleeping bags, explosives and fuses.

Clashes in Kosovo have risen this year between the dominant ethnic Albanians, the shrinking Serb population and the NATO-led international KFOR peacekeeping troops, sparking fears of wider conflicts which would involve Western military on the ground.

Tensions High In Mitrovica

Tensions are especially high in the town of Mitrovica, divided between the Serbs and Albanians, where peacekeepers have already clashed with instigators of ethnic violence.

In Paris, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was asking several countries for more police and troops to fight violence in Kosovo, which he blamed on ethnic Albanian extremists.

''I am in touch with several heads of state. We need money, police and troops,'' Annan said in a television interview.

''I hope that not only France, but other states, and not only Security Council members, will help us,'' he said.

France has said it will deploy an additional combat company, numbering some 150 soldiers, in Mitrovica in the next few days while Italy has said it will send 360 more soldiers to the southern Serbian province.

In the French city of Strasbourg, the commanders of 10 West European armies discussed how to cope with the situation in Kosovo, where protests such as those in Mitrovica are increasingly degenerating into outbreaks of shooting.

''There is a grey zone we have to think about and how to react when members of demonstrating crowds all of a sudden brandish rifles and throw grenades at our troops,'' said General Yves Crene, commander of France's land forces.

In the Presevo valley, local Serb officials said they were doing what they could to stop the violence.

But the leader of the majority Albanian population said their frank admissions of mistakes in state policy and pledges to make amends had yet to lead to improvements on the ground, where three civilians have been killed in the past 10 days.

The deaths bring to eight the number of Albanian civilians killed in the area since NATO's air strikes over Kosovo last year, the Albanian mayor of Presevo, Riza Halimi, said, adding that 11 others were killed by Serb forces during the bombing.

Tensions between police and a newly emerged armed Albanian group spilled over in late January. A police major and an armed Albanian have since joined the list of victims.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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