Seven Serbs die as bomb rips apart Kosovo bus

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The Independent Online

Seven Serbs were murdered in Kosovo yesterday when their bus was torn apart by a massive bomb hidden under the road. The bus was travelling in a convoy under full international military escort.

Seven Serbs were murdered in Kosovo yesterday when their bus was torn apart by a massive bomb hidden under the road. The bus was travelling in a convoy under full international military escort.

There were children on board. Their schoolbooks, covered with childish handwriting, lay by the side of the road, according to eyewitnesses.

The international force in Kosovo (K-For) declined to give details about the identity of the dead. Ten people were seriously injured and up to 40 reported less severely hurt.

It was a premeditated act of murder for which Albanian extremists were immediately suspected. Two K-For armoured personnel carriers passed over the bomb before the bus, which was the first in a convoy of seven carrying Serbian passengers. The killers detonated the bomb as the Serbs passed over it. K-For troops found wire controls leading from the culvert where the bomb was hidden. The convoy, of about 200 people, was escorted by seven troop carriers of K-For soldiers.

One of the survivors, Gorica Stjepanovic, 24, said: "All of a sudden, everything burst, the bus seemed to have fallen apart. Blood was dripping from the roof, we were trying to see whose blood.

"Somebody's leg was hanging from the window. When I managed to get out, parts of bodies were everywhere. The hardest thing was to see a child, three to four years old, It wasn't breathing, and no one could help."

Another survivor, Sasa Stojanovic, 28, said: "I saw people flying through the glass, but they seemed to be more body parts than people."

Brigadier Rob Fry, the Nato commander in the area, called the bombing an "an act of ruthless, premeditated murder".

In Belgrade, the Yugoslav President, Vojislav Kostunica, urged Serbs "not to fall into the trap of Albanian terrorists and respond with force to their crimes", and he called on Nato to prevent Kosovo becoming "a mono-ethnic Mafia enclave, where fear and intimidation rule".

The road on which the convoy was travelling - from Gate Three to Podujevo - is usually the safest road for Serbs travelling between Kosovo and Serbia. The road was certain to be busy as today is the Day of the Dead, when Orthodox Serbs visit the graves of their relatives. Reports say those on the bus had already been "cleansed" from Kosovo and were returning to visit the graves of their relatives. These were not the Serbian forces who carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. They were civilians, ethnic Serbs born in the province, heading for Gracanica, a heavily guarded Serb village.

Many of Kosovo's Albanians say it is impossible to live side by side with Serbs any more, and that the Serbs must be forced out of Kosovo by violence and fear. The victims have become the ethnic cleansers.

The killing is not all on one side. Only two weeks ago, the 15-year-old Albanian Gazmend Ibrahimi was blown to pieces by a Serbian grenade two streets from his home, and this attack may have been in revenge.

Serbian anger was spreading yesterday. There were reports of an Albanian bus torched in a Serb village, and the road to Skopje was said to be blocked by Serb protesters. Mass Serb demonstrations are planned in Mitrovica today.

Meanwhile in Belgrade, the gun continues to rule. A man fired on police escorting the Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic in the early hours of yesterday.

Mr Mihajlovic, who is responsible for the police, said he may have stumbled into a gangland shoot-out, but could not rule out the possibility he had been targeted.

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