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NATO: Albanians Are Safe in Kosovo

July 21, 1999

ORAHOVAC, Yugoslavia (AP) _ U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO’s top commander in Europe, has personally pledged that ethnic Albanians in the tense central Kosovo city of Orahovac will be safe. But Serbs in the town say they are the ones under threat.

``We’re going to take care of you,″ Clark told Kosovo Albanians who mobbed him in a central square Tuesday. At the same time, he urged them to be tolerant of Serbs segregated in a small enclave of the town.

``It doesn’t matter if you are Serbian or Albanian,″ he said. ``If you are not guilty of any crime, you must be made to feel welcome.″

As he spoke, smoke rose from a house in a nearby Serb neighborhood.

``Our houses are burning and (NATO) does nothing,″ complained 61-year-old Zora Radovanovic.

Five weeks after the alliance entered Kosovo and ended atrocities by Serb forces against the ethnic Albanians, it is now the dwindling Serb population that suffers most from daily incidents of arson, killings and abductions. Some are individual acts of revenge, others appear to be part of an organized effort.

Kosovo Liberation Army leader Hashim Thaci has denied that his forces are engaged in such an effort. He has appealed to his followers to refrain from revenge, but has said repeatedly that there is no place in Kosovo for Serbs ``with blood on their hands.″

Thaci distanced himself from the violence in an interview published Tuesday in the Rilindija newspaper, saying the KLA’s aim was to liberate Kosovo, not attack Serb civilians.

The rash of violence has prompted international bodies to appeal for the protection of Serbs. The U.N. refugee agency has called it ``the most critical issue″ in the province. But Clark made ethnic Albanian safety his main topic, telling Orahovac’s residents NATO was ``very pleased you’re here in your homes.″

``We want you to go back and have normal lives,″ he said. ``As best we can, we are going to help you do that.″

Several hundred townspeople pressed close as he spoke. They chanted his name, ``NATO, NATO,″ and ``NATO, yes, Russia, no.″

Ethnic Albanians in the town have held daily demonstrations denouncing the presence of Russian peacekeepers, whom they see as allies of the Serbs. Rumors that Russian mercenaries were involved in atrocities against ethnic Albanians have fueled resentment.

Clark and his four-vehicle convoy made a swing through the Serb quarter of the town as well. The Serbs looked on with curiosity, but did not appear aware of who was in the convoy.

In western Kosovo on Tuesday the head of the NATO-led peace force in the province inspected a storage site for KLA weapons on the eve of a deadline for substantial demilitarization.

British Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson saw dozens of mortar launchers, hundreds of rifles and crates containing two million rounds of ammunition during a tour of the site about 12 miles south of the city of Pec.

The site is one of about 19 where the rebels are gathering arms in compliance with an agreement to collect all large-caliber weapons and 30 percent of their small semiautomatic arms by midnight today. They have 90 days to completely disarm.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan disputed Serbian accusations that the United Nations was illegally expanding its influence in Kosovo. He said the U.N. mandate came from the Security Council, suggesting that its authority was firmly endorsed by the world powers.

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