Talks off as peace comes under pressure in Kosovo

THE FRAGILE peace in Kosovo was under mounting pressure last night as meetings of the Serb-Albanian provisional government were cancelled following the murders of 14 Serbians, including a boy, from a farming community.

With recriminations continuing over the killings and escalating tension, Bernard Kouchner, the recently appointed United Nations administrator to the province, said the talks had been postponed indefinitely at the request of the Serbian side.

Lt-General Sir Michael Jackson, the commander of Nato's K-For, joined Mr Kouchner in condemning the killings at Gracko, south of the capital Pristina, calling them an attempt to destabilise the peace process.

Mr Kouchner said: "The murderers sought to stop us. We must not permit that." General Jackson, whose force is hunting those responsible, added: "Those who committed that brutal act will be pursued - and we are doing that with great energy now - and, when found, brought to justice. The desire for revenge is just about understandable, but it cannot be tolerated. Now is the time to break the cycle of violence."

Stojan Jovanovic, a Serbian official, said the postponement was to allow the Serbs to bury the victims. Regarding the talks, he said: "We are really not sure what we are going to do. It is very difficult to do anything if you fear for your life."

Louise Arbour, the chief prosecutor of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, ordered an immediate investigation. She said: "The strongest deterrent message must be sent to those who are inclined to perpetuate the cycle of violence that has shattered Kosovo."

The Serbians say they suffer almost daily revenge attacks, with more than 700,000 Kosovo Albanians returning home, and they blamed the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) for much of the violence. The KLA leader, Hashim Thaci, denied involvement and offered to help find the killers. There is growing concern among senior Nato officers that the KLA has been slow in disarming and its armed soldiers still roam rural areas.

Kosovo reckoning, page 4