Villagers cower as Serb bullets fly

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The Independent Online
THREE KOSOVO Albanian women were huddled by the side of the road into Racak, paralysed with fear as a Yugoslav artillery piece sent out a heavy boom. One of the women was crying. She said her cattle were going to die because she was too scared to go into the village to feed and water them.

A few minutes later from the other direction, heavily armed special police units took up positions in the village. As the armoured vehicles and Jeeps moved forward, the air crackled with automatic fire - incoming and outgoing - when ethnic Albanian guerrillas in the hills realised they were about to come under attack.

The Serbian offensive continued yesterday despite demands from the international monitoring mission in Kosovo for restraint and calls from Nato for the ceasefire pledges signed by President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia last October to be honoured.

In Racak, some of the police stayed behind at the mosque where the bodies of more than 40 ethnic Albanians killed by the security forces on Friday had been laid out. The police had removed the bodies on Monday for examination.

The detachment of police moved up the hill to try to flush out positions held by the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Amid constant firing, one police officer aimed back down the hill, clutching his bleeding head.

A helicopter was flown in to rescue the police casualties. One member of the security forces was reported to have died. The KLA also said it had lost one of its fighters.

On the Serbian side, the fighting was done by the police, some using four-wheel drive vehicles with Belgrade number plates. But they were supported by the Yugoslav army, using heavy artillery, anti-aircraft cannon and mortars.

Although the KLA had left Racak, they had withdrawn only to the next village. The regional commander, Shukri Buja, had set up his headquarters a short drive from the forward positions of the police.

Commander Buja said there was little his fighters could do when faced with the full might of the security forces but take to the hills.

However, he was contemptuous of what he said was the Serbian forces' unwillingness to take and hold ground, and was confident that the KLA will move back to the villages it has been forced to leave during the past week.

Asked if the toll of dead from Racak did not prove that the moderate ethnic Albanian political leader, Ibrahim Rujova, was right in pursuing a clearly peaceful path to independence, the commander replied: "I spent half my youth in a Serbian jail. All that time I dreamed of the day when I could come to the mountains and fight for my people. That day has come."

Meanwhile the United Nations war crimes chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour, was denied access to Kosovo for a second day yesterday but said she would stay put and await an answer from Mr Milosevic.

"We cannot be granted access to Kosovo, because in the words of the Yugoslav justice minister we have no jurisdiction there," Ms Arbour said in Skopje, Macedonia, after talking on the phone with the Justice Minister, Zoran Knezevic.

On Monday, Yugoslav guards at the Macedonian border turned back Ms Arbour when she tried to cross into Kosovo to investigate last Friday's massacre in Racak .

The UN insists that its court in The Hague has jurisdiction throughout former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo. But, in a statement on Monday, the Milosevic government said the UN court "does not have and cannot have jurisdiction in Kosovo" since the conflict here is "a clear matter of terrorism".

Ms Arbour disputed this and said that "there is evidence that suggests there were also war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the context of an armed conflict".

"Under international humanitarian law, that is the basis upon which we can move ahead and exercise the mandate given to us by the UN Security Council," she said, adding that only a Security Council resolution can abolish the ongoing jurisdiction of The Hague tribunal.

Leading article, Review, page 3

Paddy Ashdown, Review, page 4