Serb police swap guns for skis

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The Independent Online
WHILE FIGHTING raged on in Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians yesterday, the authorities organised a ski festival on the mountains of Brezovica, a winter resort in the south of the province, on the border with Macedonia.

Uniformed soldiers in green camouflage and police in blue, most carrying rifles, wandered among skiers on the slopes to ensure this demonstration of "normality" was not interrupted by an attack from the separatist fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Radovan Urosevic, from the Serb-run Media Centre in the province's capital, Pristina, was delighted by the success of "Ski Fest Serbia 1999". He said: "The major objective is that people get together and have fun."

The competition included a team from the Serbian police force, an organisation better known to the outside world for driving thousands of Albanian villagers from their homes. In the past few days alone, hundreds of civilians have fled across the border to Macedonia from villages near Brezovica.

While Kosovo Serbs enjoyed the slopes, about 3,000 Kosovo Albanians gathered 50 miles further north to commemorate the first anniversary of the outbreak of fighting. It was a year ago that the security forces ambushed a car packed with KLA fighters in Likosane, an action now seen by Albanians as marking the official start of the war in Kosovo.

Peace talks on the province's future are scheduled to resume on 15 March. But as fighting continues, one Serbian policeman was killed and four others wounded yesterday in battles near Kacanik. Four Serbs were also reported to have been kidnapped near Orahovac.

t The French President, Jacques Chirac, issued a stern warning yesterday to Serbs and ethnic Albanians to cease their fighting or face serious consequences. Mr Chirac was visiting the Nato Extraction Force in Macedonia, which has been deployed to ensure the safety of peace monitors in Kosovo.