06 February 2007

Armed Groups Appear In Volatile Kosovo

Deutsche Presse Agentur, 03:12 PM, December 7th 2006


A group of men armed with Kalshnikov machine guns have set up an illegal checkpoint on a road in Serbia's volatile breakaway province of Kosovo, police confirmed Thursday.


The checkpoint was set in village Grcin, near Djakovica in southwestern Kosovo, regional police spokesman Avni Gjevlukaj told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.


The 10 men were in civilian clothes he said, denying reports of shooting incidents which emerged in Serbia. People reported seeing the checkpoint, but none said they were stopped, Gjevlukaj added.


The NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo refused to comment the issue. KFOR spokesman Hubert Schmidt described the incident as a "matter for police."


The Serbian news agency Tanjug said that checkpoints started appearing on western Kosovo backroads in recent days. It also claimed that police and the armed men exchanged fire on one occasion.


The majority Kosovo Albanian leaders this week called on the population to show restraint in the coming period, in which the future status of the province is presumably to be resolved.


The Albanians expected to gain independence from Serbia already in 2006, but Belgrade insists on sovereignty over the province in which it has had no say since NATO ousted its military and police in 1999.


Talks of Belgrade and Pristina were launched in February under UN auspices in Vienna, but they failed to bring the deeply hostile sides any closer together.


The UN mediator, Martti Ahtisaari, is due to announce his proposal to resolve the Kosovo issue after parliamentary polls in Serbia on January 21.


There is concern that delays of the status resolution could spur extremists among the Albanians, who already took to arms in 1998 to launch a guerrilla war on Serbian police, may resort to violence in a bid to propel their cause.


Belgrade warns that Serbs would flee if Kosovo gains independence, while the UN administrator, Joachim Ruecker, Wednesday said that there would be "no Serb exodus" from the province regardless of what the future status turns out to be.