20 killed in Serbian crackdown on Kosovo

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The Independent Online
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Sixteen ethnic Albanians and four Serbian police died at the weekend in the worst bloodshed to hit Serbia's southern Kosovo province during a nine-year campaign by its Albanian majority to regain their autonomy.

The official death toll was given yesterday by the Serbian interior ministry which said five other ethnic Albanians were arrested during police raids in which weapons were seized.

The independent Belgrade radio station B-92 quoted unofficial Albanian sources as saying up to 30 people were killed including a family of four who were among seven people shot dead in a village near Srbica in central Kosovo.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who has resisted US and European efforts to mediate, issued a message to the West not to interfere. Urging Albanians to abstain from bloodshed, he said that "terrorism aimed at the internationalisation [of the Kosovo] issue would be most harmful to those who had resorted to these means".

Several dozen people have been killed over the last two years as a result of steadily increasing nationalist tensions in Kosovo where pro-independence ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs by nine to one among the 2 million population.

Responsibility for recent attacks on Serbian security forces has been claimed by the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army which has become a focus for militants impatient with the lack of political progress towards their demands. Mr Milosevic stripped Kosovo of its status as an autonomous province of Yugoslavia in 1989 and garrisoned it with police and troops, prompting an Albanian boycott of all official institutions and services.