Rebels and Serbs in partial truce
by Guy Dinmore in Pristina, Financial Times
Serbian government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels agreed yesterday to a ceasefire in one area of Kosovo so that international aid agencies could reach civilians displaced and wounded in recent fighting. Western diplomats said it was the first time the two sides had agreed to halt hostilities since violence flared in the province six months ago. But they stressed the ceasefire applied to only one area of western Kosovo, near the town of Pec, where fighting erupted last week.
“The Serbs said one bullet means the end of the ceasefire,” a diplomat said. One aid worker said he had heard the ceasefire would last for two days.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières sent a convoy of trucks with doctors and medical supplies to several villages near Pec.
An unknown number of civilians have been killed and wounded by shells and rockets fired by government forces. The United Nations refugee agency said it had found about 20,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, sheltering in fields and woods in western Kosovo. One pregnant woman had suffered serious head wounds and was taken to hospital.
The conflict in Kosovo has displaced more than 230,000 people, over 10 per cent of the population. Aid agencies fear a humanitarian disaster this winter if people cannot go back to their villages in safety.
Elsewhere in Kosovo there were reports of clashes close to the strategic road running from the provincial capital, Pristina, to the southern town of Prizren.
Senior diplomats from the US and Austria, which holds the European Union presidency, urged the government at the weekend to halt its offensive so that aid agencies could reach stricken areas. Richard Miles, the US chargé d’affaires in Belgrade, raised the issue with Yugoslavia’s President Slobodan Milosevic.
Diplomats said the lull in hostilities suited both sides, for the moment. Government forces, in a month-long offensive, have dislodged Kosovo Liberation Army rebels from large areas of central and southern Kosovo. “One side is licking its wounds and the other is consolidating its victory,” a western envoy said.
However, KLA fighters are trickling back to villages that had been captured and torched by Serbian police and then later abandoned.
Diplomats said although the government enjoyed superior firepower it did not have the ability to secure territory it regained.
US envoy Chris Hill is due to return to Kosovo today to try to resume peace talks.