As the world looks on, a family reaps Kosovo's deadly harvest

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The Independent Online
WESTERN POWERS were dragged another step closer to military intervention in the Kosovo crisis yesterday when another massacre, the worst since the killing of 45 civilians at Racak 10 days ago, shattered the four-month cease-fire.

As Christopher Hill, the US peace envoy, arrived to try to restart negotiations between the Serbian authorities and the Albanian community, the bodies of five ethnic Albanians were found in a tractor-trailer in the south- west of the province. The two adults and three children, members of the same family, had been shot with a machine-gun powerful enough to penetrate the tractor's engine block and a handgun. A man and a woman lay sprawled in the cab, both with massive head wounds. Two children, believed to be boys aged 10 and 12, and a man were dead on a pile of corn stalks in the wagon.

The Albanian-run Kosovo Information Centre quoted witnesses as saying a troop carrier of the Yugoslav security forces opened fire on the tractor on Sunday.

An investigative judge from the nearby town of Djakovica came to the scene escorted by police in armoured cars and civilian vehicles. Six vehicles of the Kosovo Verification Missionwere also at the scene.

"The bodies look very bad," said Les House, a member of the mission.

The latest violence has revived demands for military force to be used against the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic. Nato has already reduced the stand-by period for military action from 96 to 48 hours. The latest killings may be enough to set the clock ticking. The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels that they expressed outrage at last week's Racak massacre. "Five more bodies have been found," he said. "I have been in contact with the general in charge of the British contingent in the Kosovan verification mission and asked for a full report into the circumstances of the latest atrocity." Mr Cook said there was a need to keep alive "the pressure of a credible military threat" against the Serb regime. But the priority was to bring the Serb leadership and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) round the negotiating table as soon as possible. Ministers of the Contact Group, meeting in London on Friday, called for a "heavy dose of international pressure, backed by force".

Kosovo had been quiet after the freeing on Saturday of nine KLA members by Yugoslav authorities and the release of five Serbs kidnapped by the KLA.

Blame for the latest massacre was put by Albanians on Serbian security forces. The Serbs said the territory where the bodies were found "is controlled by the separatist so-called KLA". They said a police patrol came under fire from a car yesterday near Glogovac. There was no independent confirmation but it is clear Mr Milosevic's government wants to establish that every provocation is matched.

By yesterday afternoon forensic tags marking entry holes on the tractor and evidence on the ground suggested that another tortuous investigation was under way into whether this was a massacre, as claimed by the KLA.

After the Racak killings Serbia ordered out William Walker, head of the Kosovo "peace verifiers", for denouncing Serbian police for carrying out a massacre. It also refused to allow international war-crimes investigators into the country. After talks, Belgrade agreed to let him stay. Yesterday he reiterated that "unbiased observers" would have no doubt that what happened at Racak was a massacre.

The deaths of another five civilians emphasise the difficulty of Mr Hill's task. The talks, which began under the threat of Nato bombing in October, have fallen apart and the growing number of bloody interruptions to the truce between Belgrade and the KLA makes them ever harder to resuscitate. Mr Hill was non-committal yesterday after a meeting with Ibrahim Rugova, the most senior political spokesman for the Kosovo Albanian community but his credibility is being undermined by the inability of the international community to guarantee the safety of his people.

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