Albanians accuse Serb police of opening fire on protesters

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THE MAIN Albanian political party in Kosovo accused Serb police of opening fire on a peaceful demonstration in the city of Pec yesterday, killing one person and wounding at least five more, writes Andrew Gumbel.

The incident, which could not immediately be confirmed, appeared to signal an escalation in tension in the province coinciding with new efforts by international negotiators to persuade Serbs and Albanians to sit down and hammer out an agreement on Kosovo's status.

The violence in Pec, in western Kosovo, near the Albanian border, was reported by the Kosovo Information Center, the mouthpiece for the main Albanian party, the LDK. The Serbian Information Ministry issued a statement denouncing vandalism by Albanian demonstrators in five towns in Kosovo, but made no mention of police retaliation.

For the past nine days, Albanians have been able to protest peacefully against Serbian rule with little or no resistance from the security forces.

Resentment has been growing, however, with gangs of Serbs standing on street-corners during demonstrations, apparently itching for a fight. Serb nationalists vowed that they would never give the province up even though they are outnumbered nine-to-one by Albanians.

Diplomatically, the situation appears to have hit a dangerous impasse, with the Serbs still refusing to withdraw their forces from the cluster of villages they attacked two weeks ago, killing more than 80 people, and the Albanians refusing to talk to a Serbian government delegation.

The US special envoy Robert Gelbard was in Pristina yesterday, as was a delegation from the Italian religious community of Sant'Egidio, which negotiated the framework of an agreement on education between the two sides in 1996.