Wave of Kosovo killings continues

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"EVERY DAY two or three Albanians are being killed in Kosovo," Ibrahim Rugova, the man most of the province's ethnic Albanian population consider their leader, complained yesterday. Even as he was speaking, however, there was news that the day's death toll would be much higher.

In the village of Rogovo near the border with Albania, one Serbian policeman and 24 Albanians were killed in one of the bloodiest clashes in nearly two years of conflict in Kosovo. At the other end of the province, 12 miles north of the provincial capital, Pristina, Serbian tanks and artillery continued their bombardment of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) positions for a third day. Despite an official ceasefire and frantic diplomatic activity in Western capitals to find a negotiated solution in Kosovo, the violence is, if anything, getting worse.

Ceasefire monitors of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe based in Prizren, the regional centre, described what they found when they arrived at Rogovo. Most of the bodies were in and around a bullet- riddled red minibus in the courtyard of an Albanian family compound, but four were in another building, and a further four were several hundred yards away. The dead policeman was in his car outside the compound.

The OSCE monitors were told that the police were mounting a sweep through the village after several nearby clashes over preceding days with KLA infiltrators from Albania. As they passed through Rogovo they came under fire from the house where the minibus was found, as well as several neighbouring houses, and they fought back.

Sixteen women and children were found cowering in the main house after the attack. One of them said her husband and two of sons had left in the minibus, only to return at high speed minutes later with a large number of passengers, under fire from the police.

It appears that the guerrillas were ambushed at their "safe house" shortly after coming over the mountains from Albania. Three of the men were in KLA uniforms, and rifles were found beside some of the bodies, but most of those found further away from the minibus had bullet wounds only in the head, suggesting that they had been hunted down after the initial clash and summarily murdered.

Whatever the truth behind the Rogovo deaths, however, the violence of the day was not yet over. Last night, less than 24 hours before the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, was due to arrive in Pristina, a Serbian cafe in the Kosovan capital was bombed, injuring seven people, six seriously. The injured were all Serbs apart from an Albanian girl. A previous similar attempt, though unsuccessful, brought violent street attacks on Albanians by Serbs.

In Brussels, Nato military chiefs stepped up detailed preparations for the politically charged option of sending ground troops to Kosovo. Up to 200,000 men could be required, depending on the outcome of negotiations ordered by Nato's political leaders yesterday between Belgrade and the ethnic Albanians on a settlement of the conflict.

If these talks succeed, then deployment of Nato troops on the ground will be essential.

Germany yesterday joined Britain and France in pledging troops to police an autonomy deal, and Washington is edging towards acceptance of the idea.

Various scenarios have been outlined by military planners. These suggest that 36,000 is the minimum number of troops required to monitor a ceasefire and peace agreement if the talks go ahead and produce the desired result. A 2,300 strong French-led Nato unit stationed in Macedonia for the evacuation of OSCE monitors would probably provide the vanguard of this presence. If talks break down with no agreement on the political future of Kosovo but a ceasefire holds, then Nato planners estimate that 60,000 men will be needed, Nato diplomats said.

If talks fail and there is no ceasefire then 200,000 troops would be required to impose peace in the province.

That deployment would drag Nato into a protracted engagement and even full-scale war with the Serbs.