Revenge killings terrorise Kosovo

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The Independent Online
KOSOVO SEEMS poised to endure a terrifying Christmas, marked by tit-for-tat killings, kidnappings, knocks on the door at night and car-jackings on lonely country roads.

Yesterday, the body of the deputy mayor of the town of Kosovo Polje was found dumped on a road near the town. Zvonko Bojanic, a Serb, was dragged from his home in a nearby village by armed gunmen on Thursday night.

The murder will send a shiver up the spines of the province's fast dwindling Serbian community of about 200,000, surrounded as they are by almost 10 times as many Albanians.

Kosovo Polje is one of the few towns in the province with a large Serb population, and its name carries great resonance with Serbs as the site of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, the most important date in Serbs' national consciousness.

The abduction conforms to a growing pattern. After the failure of an armed uprising against Serb rule in the spring, and its brutal suppression by the Serb military, the province's Albanian majority is turning to a war of attrition, killing local Serb officials and even civilians, instead of confronting the armed might of the Serbian state head on.

Earlier this week gunmen burst into a cafe frequented by Serbs in the western city of Pec, and gunned down six men.

The sporadic killings, reported to be the work of the an Albanian guerrilla force called the Kosovo Liberation Army, are, as ever, meeting a violent response from the Serbian security forces.

At the weekend the Serbs announced they had killed 36 Kosovo fighters on the border with Albania proper. Yesterday, they were reported to have sealed off sections of the city of Pec and the nearby village of Glodjane and to have killed at least two Albanians.

In another effort to bolster Belgrade's hold over Kosovo, the government yesterday prevented the publication of the province's main Albanian language daily, Bujku, under a new information law passed in October against media deemed threatening to Serbia's constitutional order. The law has been used extensively in Serbia proper to muzzle opponents of the government of President Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's ruler since 1987.

The cycle of murders suggest strongly that the breathing space gained by an October truce brokered by the United States, against a background of threatened air strikes against Serbia, is fast closing.

That agreement, cobbled together by the trouble-shooting US diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, envisaged fast progress towards discussions on Kosovo's future constitutional status between the Albanians and the Belgrade authorities.

Since then no talks have taken place, while the latest killings on both sides make the prospect of discussions even beginning in the New Year look unlikely.

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