Army probes deaths of 14 Serb farmers

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BRITISH MILITARY police were last night investigating the murder of 14 Serb farmers - gunned down while bringing in the harvest - in the worst atrocity since Western forces entered Kosovo nearly two months ago.

After hearing automatic weapons fire on Friday night, British soldiers on patrol found the victims in fields near Gracko, a village of some 80 Serb families 10 miles south-west of the Kosovo capital Pristina.

While senior officers within the Kosovo Liberation Army joined Nato yesterday in condemning the killings, it seems most likely that the massacre was carried out by a rogue Kosovo Albanian gang intent on reprisals against Kosovo's ever-decreasing minority.

"The killings are particularly terrible coming as they do at a time when peace is beginning to return to Kosovo. But we must not let them become a catalyst for further bloodshed," said KFor spokesman, Major Jan Joosten. "KFor and the new international police will hunt down those responsible for this awful crime. We will ensure they are brought to justice and face the full might of the law."

The bodies of the farmers were discovered at around 9.30pm on Friday. A British major at the scene said the farmers all appeared to have been shot at close range. Their bodies were taken to Pristina Hospital where they will be held before being claimed by relatives.

The killings will further undermine confidence within the remaining Serb population of KFor's ability to guarantee their safety. Since the arrival of the Western troops in Kosovo, senior politicians and officers have urged the Serb population not to leave. But up to 100,000 have probably already fled following a wave of house burning and looting.