Serbs killed in clashes with Nato peace force

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The Independent Online
VIOLENCE SPREAD in Kosovo as Nato troops fanned out across the province yesterday, clearly unable to contain the explosive passions of Serbs and Albanians. In Pristina, British troops shot dead a Serb, while in Prizren, in the south-west, German troops shot dead at least two Serb soldiers.

At the same time a tense stand-off remained unresolved at Pristina's Slatina airport, where Russians refused to hand over any control of the strategically important complex to Nato, forcing the alliance to admit it may have to find an alternative headquarters.

The clash over the control of Pristina airport has become increasingly fraught, with Russian forces repeatedly stopping Nato vehicles from entering parts of the complex. A witness said yesterday that the Russians stopped two British military vehicles from going through into the airport, and let in two Serbian tanks instead.

After the Spartan reconnaissance vehicle was stopped in the early hours by the Russian BTR 60 troop carrier, a stand-off continued for several hours. The Spartan was then joined by a British Warrior combat vehicle but when it tried to get through the check- point the Russian BTR moved in its path and the two vehicles stood inches apart with their guns pointing at each other. After a lot of shouting the British withdrew. Shortly afterwards, two Yugoslav army tanks smoothly passed through the check point.

However embarrassing the confrontation at the airport, Nato will have been far more worried by the bloody clashes in Prizren, where a recalcitrant group of furious and fearful Serb soldiers, surrounded by jeering and booing Albanians, clashed with incoming German K-For troops.

The trouble started soon after German troops reached the ancient Ottoman city of Prizren. About 1,000 German troops had entered the city 55 miles south-west of the capital, Pristina. Germans shot two Serbian paramilitary men who attempted a suicide-bombing mission against the Germans in Prizren.

The Germans, who had entered the city earlier to cheers of local Albanians killed one of the men with machine-gun fire and wounded the other, according to eyewitnesses. Another man was killed in a separate incident.

The men apparently approached a Leopard tank and aimed AK-47 rifles out of the windows of their vehicle. They also had grenades in their car. Local residents recognised the men as members of Serbian paramilitary groups, who are supposed to leave Kosovo by tomorrow.

After the attack, the city resembled a war zone with Germans taking up sniper positions and residents fleeing for cover.

As reporters hid behind vehicles, German soldiers took up defensive positions below the hill from which the fire was coming. "They're all over the place," one German soldier shouted. "They're drunks with guns and grenades."

The leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo, Archbishop Artemije of Prizren, appealed for international aid after saying he and his clergy were surrounded in the city and that one of his priests had been killed already.

Later it was confirmed by British forces that a German journalist had been shot and killed in the village of Dulje, 25 miles south-east of Pristina, in an area where Canadian peace-keepers have been deployed.

Earlier yesterday there were wild scenes of jubilation in Kosovo. In Prizren, German troops were cheered as liberators and showered with wild flowers and branches when they rumbled through the city centre in Leopard tanks. Even journalists were cheered with chants of "Nato, Nato!"

In Pristina there were similar scenes as British troops entered the capital. "It is the first time we have been outside in three months," said Bahtije Gashi, a woman who looked pale and thin from her ordeal. "It's unbelievable."

In Djakovica, in south-west Kosovo, residents went into an orgy of emotion greeting Italian troops - pelting them with roses, piling more flowers high on the turrets of tanks, extravagantly sweeping the road in front of the troops with palm fronds. "All our souls we are going to give to Nato," said Labinot Nikoqi, 17, running down the street with a bedsheet marked - in English "Thank you, Nato."

For the Serbs living in Kosovo, Nato's arrival is the beginning of the end. Truckloads of booty could be seen leaving the city of Pristina, as Serb drivers sped out of the capital recklessly, taken aback by the speed of Nato's arrival, since Serb forces still have a few days to vacate the city under the terms of the deal. Since the middle of last week about 10,000 have abandoned their homes and fled to Montenegro, fearing retribution at the hands of their former neighbours.

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