Serbia has opened its biggest military base in a tense area near the boundary with Kosovo, amid protest by local ethnic Albanian leaders.

Officials say the base will help secure peace and stability in the region which was the scene of an ethnic Albanian rebellion in 2000-2001. Some 1,000 troops will be based there.

President Boris Tadic said during the opening ceremony Monday that the facility also will help boost the fight against rampant organized crime.

Local ethnic Albanian leaders say stepping up military presence in the ethnically-mixed south of Serbia amounts to "militarization" and "occupation."

The area has been tense since the 1998-99 war in Kosovo when a NATO bombing forced Serbia to pull out of the province. Kosovo declared independence last year.