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30 Kosovo Rebels Killed in Border Clash

December 15, 1998

Article from: The Washington Post
Article date: December 15, 1998
Author: Guy Dinmore

At least 30 ethnic Albanian rebels were killed as they attempted to enter Kosovo from Albania early today, Serbian officials reported. It was the deadliest clash in the province in more than two months. The fighting deepened the pall over faltering U.S. efforts to reach a permanent peace agreement.

In five hours of fighting near the border posts of Gorozup and Liken, Yugoslav troops killed at least 30 ethnic Albanians and wounded 12 others, official reports said. The reports said the ethnic Albanians were wearing uniforms of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the guerrilla group that is seeking independence for Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic.

No information was given about casualties among government forces, which were reported to have seized large quantities of “modern weapons.” Albania has been an important supply line of fighters and weapons for the Kosovo guerrillas since fighting broke out last February. Ethnic Albanian journalists said three villages in the area were still sealed off tonight by large numbers of troops and police.

Observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who went to the border confirmed they had seen the bodies of 31 Albanians, including a woman, in rebel uniforms. They said Serbian forces also had taken nine prisoners. An OSCE spokesman said that in a separate incident masked gunmen killed four Serbs in a bar in the western town of Pec. Diplomatic observers said they believed the attack was in revenge for the rebel losses.

The border clash occurred as U.S. special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke prepared to return to Belgrade on Tuesday for a new round of talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Under threat of NATO airstrikes, Milosevic agreed in October to withdraw security forces involved in civilian repression in Kosovo and to take steps toward restoring autonomy to its ethnic Albanian majority. But shuttle diplomacy by Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Macedonia, has failed to make tangible progress, and diplomats said Holbrooke was returning to Belgrade in an effort to get the peace process back on track. Holbrooke might propose direct talks between the Serbian government and pro-independence leaders of the Kosovo Albanians. But diplomats said the fractured ethnic Albanian side had failed to produce a coherent negotiating team, while the government in Belgrade was opposed to direct U.S. mediation. In the settlement reached with Holbrooke in October, Milosevic agreed to a partial withdrawal of his security forces and to allow 2,000 international monitors to enter Kosovo. But the government has since threatened to repeat its summer offensive, in which scores of villages were destroyed, unless the international community can curb the Kosovo Liberation Army, which has returned to many areas vacated by Yugoslav forces. Diplomats say the rebels are bringing in fresh supplies of weapons and extra fighters from Albania in expectation of renewed fighting next spring. Milosevic’s commitment to reaching a negotiated settlement was followed by his government’s repeated rejections of U.S. proposals that would restore limited autonomy to Kosovo. The State Department expressed its frustration with Milosevic this month, describing him as “the problem” in the Balkans and saying the United States would not lose sleep if he were no longer in office. Diplomats said Holbrooke also was expected to discuss a crackdown on Serbia’s independent media and to warn Milosevic not to try to overthrow the pro-Western leadership in Montenegro, the other republic in the Yugoslav federation.

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