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Envoy Tells of Trail of Destruction in Kosovo

June 9, 1998

Article from: The Washington Post

Article date: June 9, 1998
Author: Guy Dinmore

Serbian security forces shelled ethnic Albanian villages in the southern province of Kosovo today as U.S. envoy Christopher Hill drove into the war zone as part of Western efforts to stop the violence and restart stalled peace talks.

The latest offensive by Serbian police and Yugoslav troops backed by helicopters and jets has left a trail of destruction along the border with Albania and sent tens of thousands of villagers fleeing for safety. Serbia is a republic of Yugoslavia.Hill, U.S. ambassador to neighboring Macedonia, said much of Decani, a town five miles northeast of the Albanian border, had been destroyed by high-caliber weapons or burned to the ground. The nearby village of Prilep also suffered extensive damage, Hill said, as did houses along a road that runs parallel to the border. Hill said explosions could be heard in the distance and Serbian police near the village of Junik advised his party to turn back. The pro-independence Democratic League of Kosovo, the province’s leading Albanian political party, said Serbian forces shelled several villages near the border today.

Armed farmers in Junik had erected barricades across the road but were eager to talk to Hill, telling him that 6,000 refugees passed through the area last week on their long trek over the Cursed Mountains into Albania. The farmers also said Yugoslav air force jets had bombed the border region. “It’s absolutely necessary to get negotiations up and running,” Hill told reporters on returning to Pristina, Kosovo’s capital. “We have to pick up the pace. The longer the violence goes on, the more difficult it will be to get things going. We learned this in Bosnia.”

Hill, accompanied by leaders of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority, was the first Western envoy allowed unescorted into the region since the latest offensive began two weeks ago against separatist rebels of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president, gave his go-ahead to the trip, which followed a visit to Decani on Sunday by diplomats kept on a tight leash by the Serbian authorities. The Kosovo Albanian leadership broke off negotiations last week after one round in protest against the attacks, the heaviest in three months. The Democratic League of Kosovo has accused Serbian forces of “ethnic cleansing” while David Kajic, Kosovo’s Serbian security chief, said police were trying to cut the flow of weapons smuggled from northern Albania by separatist rebels. Ethnic Albanian officials said 52 people had been confirmed killed last week while 200 were missing. About 150 people were believed captured. The death toll this year from the conflict, which threatens to engulf Albania and Macedonia, is more than 250. Journalists who approached Decani said at least one mosque had been shelled, its minaret cut in two. Most of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority is Muslim, and Serbia’s ruling Socialist party has accused the Kosovo Liberation Army of using mercenaries from Bosnia, Albania, Pakistan and Chechnya. The guerrilla fighters reportedly have reoccupied villages near Decani and control part of the main road and rail line between Pristina in central Kosovo and the western town of Pec. Hill and U.S. envoy Richard C. Holbrooke, the architect of the 1995 Bosnian peace accord, brokered a first meeting last month between Milosevic and Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the self-declared Republic of Kosovo, which is not recognized by any government. The international community supports Yugoslavia’s claim to sovereignty over Kosovo, the heartland of the first Serbian kingdoms seven centuries ago, but has failed to persuade Milosevic to restore the provincial autonomy that he abrogated in 1989. Members of Rugova’s negotiating team say that process has been killed by the latest Serbian offensive and that more direct foreign involvement, including mediation and the pursuit of suspected war criminals, is needed. Milosevic has ruled out any direct outside role in negotiations.

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