PRISTINA (AP)--NATO-led peacekeepers said Monday that "criminals" were stopping cars and halting traffic in western Kosovo after local media reports revealed that masked and armed man put up checkpoints in the area.
"We have some information about some criminals who are acting" in western Kosovo, said Lt. Col. Siegfried Jooss, spokesman for the peacekeepers in that part of the province. "They tried to stop cars," he added.
Local media have reported that a group calling itself "The Army for Kosovo's Independence" is setting up checkpoints in the west of the province and threatening U.N. and Kosovo officials with death and kidnapping if they stand in the way of the province's independence.
Jooss said that NATO were "doing their best" in assisting local and U.N. police force in "countering these criminals." U.N. police refused to comment.
However, the U.N. warned its staff against nighttime travel in U.N. marked vehicles in western Kosovo, an official speaking on condition of anonymity said.
An increased number of NATO and police checkpoints have been set up in that part of the province following last week's sightings of the group, who were wearing balaclavas, carrying automatic rifles and handing out leaflets containing the threats.
The appearance of armed extremist groups at a time when this disputed U.N.-run province nears talks on its future is a worrying sign for security officials in Kosovo. There are fears that extremists group might retort to violence if they aren't happy with the outcome of the talks.
Kosovo has been administered by the U.N. and patrolled by NATO-led peacekeepers since 1999. Talks to resolve its disputed status will start by the end of the year.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanians want full independence while Serbia insists it retains some authority over the province.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires