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Ethnic Clashes In West Kosovo Leave 10 Dead

May 26, 1998

Article from: The Washington Post
Article date: May 26, 1998
Author: Guy Dinmore

Mounting violence in Kosovo between ethnic Albanian rebels and government forces has reportedly left at least 10 people dead and a village in ruins, while threatening to derail U.S.-brokered talks aimed at bringing peace to the restive Serbian province.

Armed guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army mounted two attacks today, the official Tanjug news agency reported. Two Serbs, including a reserve policeman, were reported wounded when their car came under fire in western Kosovo. The Yugoslav army said one of its convoys came under attack from rebels using mortars and rocket launchers in the border village of Smonica. The army said it suffered no casualties.

Albanian television said nine ethnic Albanians were killed in clashes today and the pro-government media center in Pristina said a Serb policeman died after being shot by ethnic Albanian snipers, the Associated Press reported. However, the scale of the fighting suggested much higher casualties. On Saturday, rebels stopped a train en route from Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, to the western town of Pec and abducted a police officer traveling with his family. About a dozen Serbs have been kidnapped by armed Albanians in the past week. Two have been found dead. The rebels are acting in apparent retaliation for a major offensive launched Friday by special police units of the Serbian Interior Ministry that involved armored vehicles and helicopters. The Serb offensive destroyed Dolovo, a small farming community, reducing it to little more than ashes. The fighting has been the heaviest in the region since Serbian police attacked rebel strongholds in the central Drenica region, east of Dolovo, in March. More than 80 ethnic Albanians were killed in that offensive, many of them women and children. Ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs by nearly 9 to 1 in Kosovo, which is a province of Serbia, the larger and more powerful of Yugoslavia’s two republics. The majority of Kosovo’s Albanians, who are mainly Muslim, favor independence, and sporadic fighting has flared and receded there since 1989, when Serb-led Yugoslavia stripped the province of its powers of autonomy. This year nearly 200 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Kosovo, and Western governments are concerned the violence will engulf neighboring Albania and also Macedonia, which has a large Albanian minority. Three foreign journalists who managed to evade police checkpoints Saturday and reach Dolovo — where ethnic Albanians and the few Serbs living there had a history of coexisting peacefully — found devastation. More than 20 farmhouses had been destroyed by shelling or torched. Flames still flickered around burning timbers, and dead cattle lay in the fields. Doors and walls of destroyed houses had been painted with crosses and Cyrillic letters that stand for “Only Unity Saves the Serbs.” Dolovo and a nearby hamlet appeared deserted until heavily armed police, some in camouflage green and others in regular blue uniforms, suddenly emerged from hideouts. “What are you doing here? This is war,” their officer barked. His men confiscated film and audio tapes. Constant artillery and heavy machine-gun fire could be heard from the direction of Jablanica, an isolated village where the Kosovo Liberation Army is believed to have several hundred fighters. Many civilians are also besieged there. Villagers said Serbian security forces had also opened another front farther south, close to the border with Albania, in an attempt to encircle the rebels. The police commander of the town of Djakovica, who gave his name as “Lucky,” said Sunday that police had intervened in Dolovo after “terrorists” attacked the village. He said he had no information on who had set the farms ablaze. He said that rebels were hitting back at police and units of the Yugoslav army that are trying to seal the porous border with Albania. Yugoslav troops were having their food supplies delivered by tanks because roads are not secure. Diplomats have said the renewed violence in Kosovo appears to indicate that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has decided to pursue a military option while negotiating peace. The United States and its Western allies this month lifted an investment ban on Serbia in response to the agreement by Milosevic to meet Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leaders for the first time. Milosevic saw the suspension of the ban as evidence of divisions among Western governments, diplomats said. The Democratic League of Kosovo, the main ethnic Albanian party, led by Ibrahim Rugova, accused the security forces of waging a campaign of forced ethnic purges and threatened to break off the peace talks. Chris Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Macedonia, has shuttled between the two sides in an attempt to keep the peace process going. Deputy defense ministers from eight countries in the region, joined by U.S. representatives, signed an agreement in Tirana, Albania, on Friday to set up a multinational peacekeeping force to be placed at U.N. disposal. NATO has so far ruled out military intervention in Kosovo but is considering helping the weak Albanian government patrol its northern border to stop the rebels from smuggling weapons.

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