Turmoil continued in Kosovo yesterday with more fierce ethnic violence raising the spectre of another Balkan war.
A wave of arson and shooting continued across the former Yugoslav province, still legally a part of Serbia, as emergency Nato contingents, including British troops, tried to impose control.
The alliance told Kosovo Albanian leaders yesterday that they bore a "heavy responsibility" to end three days of ethnic violence that has killed at least 31 people and sparked fears of a renewed war. "Political leaders in Kosovo must take effective, concrete action to stop the violence and restore calm," Nato said in a statement after a second day of crisis talks.
Germany and France said they were rushing a total of 1,000 troops to Kosovo to back up the Nato peace-keeping force of 18,500. British troops from the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiments were arriving in the Kosovo capital, Pristina, and were expected to fan out to Serbian enclaves under threat from Albanian insurgents.
Worries of a wider conflagration in the region increased with reports of infiltration of fighters across the Serbian and Albanian borders, and reports that both sides in the conflict were stockpiling arms. Both Nato forces and local police stated that the violence had changed from random acts to a more systematic pattern.
In the town of Mitrovica, divided between Serbs and Albanians, and long a cockpit of strife between the communities, there were reports of a bombing destroying a Serbian house, injuring members of the family. In the same town Nato troops came under fire from snipers and shot a gunman dead.
There was widespread looting of Serb homes in the town of Spinjar, south of Mitrovica. The inhabitants were evacuated by French forces while their homes were set on fire. A mob of young men looted the properties and killed livestock, driving cattle and pigs into the flames.
In another Serbian enclave, Obilic, houses were also set on fire and the Serbian population evacuated to a military camp.
In the streets of Pristina groups of young Albanian men roamed the streets and accused the Serbs of instigating the current round of troubles. The leader of one group of five young men, Ibrahim Bashi, said: "The whole thing started because the Serbs chased two Albanian boys with their dogs and made them drown. Now they are trying to use Nato to carry on their war with us, the Kosovars. We will defend ourselves. Everyone here has got guns.''
Meanwhile, more than 15,000 people attended a government-sponsored march in Belgrade yesterday to protest at the violence against Serbs in Kosovo. The Serbian Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, accompanied by members of his government and one of the most influential clergymen, Archbishop Amfilohije of Montenegro, led the march, which ended with a Mass at the Saint Sava church, the biggest Orthodox cathedral in Serbia.
Archbishop Amfilohije addressed the crowd after the Mass, saying that Kosovo for Serbs should become what Jerusalem used to be for Jews. "As Christians, we will constantly repeat the words: let my right hand be forgotten if I forget thee, Kosovo," he said. Many people cried and some held posters that said, "Kosovo is Serbia," and "Let's go to Kosovo".
Citing the names of medieval monasteries in Kosovo established by the founders of the Serbian state 700 years ago, the archbishop said that they "survived centuries under Turks" but 15 of them had been torched in a matter of days "before the eyes of Christian Europe and the United States".
He said: "There are things we should repent for, but we beg those responsible for security in Kosovo to protect our people and help both us and Albanians achieve peace and justice."
However, the archbishop warned that Serbs had every right "to defend themselves" if the international community failed to deliver its promise of safety for all in Kosovo.