Kosovo devastation horrifies diplomats

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The Independent Online
SCENES OF devastation reminiscent of wartime Bosnia yesterday confronted diplomats who were escorted into battle-torn western Kosovo - the target of a Serb offensive that has prompted new international sanctions against Serbia.

Besides burned-out houses and deserted villages, whose forced evacuation have provoked comparisons to ethnic cleansing, visitors to the besieged zone saw evidence of fierce fighting between the Serbs and ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

Along with continued clashes and shelling, the first-hand look at the devastation provides stark evidence of a fast-worsening scenario that Western powers fear could turn into a broader Balkan war.

"What we've seen is all sorrow, all grief ... all those villages burned and destroyed," said Dutch ambassador Jan Sizoo.

Sizoo was in the first group of foreign diplomats to visit the Decani region of western Kosovo, on Sunday, since Serb police and army forces began a punishing offensive there in late May.

The destruction in the southern Serb province has increased foreign pressure on Serbia to stop using its police and army against militants battling for independence for Kosovo's nine-to-one ethnic Albanian majority.

European foreign ministers who met in Luxembourg yesterday warned President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia they were ready to intervene to stop the "ethnic cleansing" of Albanians in Serbia's Kosovo province.

Ministers agreed to freeze Serbian assets and ban new European investment there, and signalled support for military action if other options failed: "The European Union remains ready to press ahead with other measures against Belgrade if the authorities there fail to halt their excessive use of force". The foreign ministers encouraged international security organisations "to consider all options", including force.

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said: "Modern Europe will not tolerate the full might of any power being used against civilian centres of population."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "Nobody was saying we have to decide today to go to war but everyone agreed that when you are dealing with Slobodan Milosevic you can exclude no option."

Germany, the Netherlands and the British EU presidency led calls for a hardline approach and, although this was balanced by a softer line from the French, the statement which emerged was tougher than expected.

Mr Milosevic was condemned for "a campaign of violence going far beyond what could legitimately be described as a targeted anti-terrorist operation". The reports of house-burning and indiscriminate artillery attacks on whole villages which have sent thousands of refugees fleeing into northern Albania indicated "a new level of aggression on the part of the Serb security forces". The Serb leader was urged to withdraw its "Special" police units from Kosovo immediately.

Klaus Kinkel, foreign minister of Germany said it was clear the Serbian leader had no intention of giving in. But he predicted great resistance in the UN Security Council to military intervention and said it might be more realistic to push instead for a beefed-up observer mission in Kosovo.

In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin said the United States had not ruled out military options. He added it was likely to reimpose sanctions on Yugoslavia soon.

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