The talk is of peace, but war does not stop

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AS WE lay face down in the snow, with bullets whizzing over our heads and mortar shells crashing into a drift, the prospect of a peace deal for Kosovo seemed far away.

Another skirmish had broken out in Bukos, a village north of Pristina, where the Yugoslav army and police patrol yards from positions held by the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The fighting illustrates the extreme tension in the region as the Rambouillet talks drag on. Earlier, a call had come from a photographer, saying he was under fire in Bukos - he was later lightly wounded by shrapnel. We went to investigate - and so did at least 25 other journalists, tailing an OSCE monitor seeking details about the killing of a Serb villager.

We were escorted to the Milosevic family home. Two patches of scarlet snow marked the spot where Mirko Milosevic, 33, had been killed, and his brother Miljan, 27, wounded. Police and relatives said Miljan and another Serb were seized on Monday by the KLA and brought, bound, to the Milosevic house at nightfall. The rebels ordered the family outside and opened fire. Miljan was later said to have died of his wounds.

Inside the modest farmhouse, Dragica Milosevic wept over the body of her eldest son, covered with a white sheet, his head wrapped in a pink and blue-patterned towel, his eyes shut, a single candle burning.

In her garden, Serbian police took cover behind sheds and woodpiles, guns trained on the rebel positions. "There was no fighting here until now," the dead man's father said. "We lived in fear of the KLA ... but we had no problems with the Albanians living here." He was bitter about the media and the OSCE monitors investigating the killing. Then the Serbsmoved their tank to haul another vehicle out of a ditch. The KLA, suspicious and nervous after earlier attacks, lobbed over a mortar shell. As it crashed in, we hurled ourselves off the muddy track and into the snow. Bullets flew past, uncomfortably close, and seemingly from two directions.

Louder bangs signalled the outgoing Serb mortar shells, and then the 30mm cannon rang out. The firefight lasted for about 15 minutes, mixed with jeers from the rebel soldiers.

Several hundred villagers fled their homes again - the UN estimates perhaps 4,000 in the area are now homeless.

Ominously, the Serbian Information Centre said a government official had promised to "complete the destruction of the Albanian separatist terrorist gangs".