Kosovo Reckoning: Armed revenge gangs stalking Serbs

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The Independent Online
IT WAS a familiar scene for Kosovo - women weeping over the bodies of their massacred men. But the murders of the 14 Serbians has raised doubts about Nato's ability to control the province's ferocious sectarian enmity, and concern about the role of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The massacre at a wheatfield in Gracko, south of Pristina, was close to an ethnic Albanian village, Bujance, where the KLA has a base. But the organisation has denied Serb claims of involvement and its leader, Hashim Thaci, has offered to help track down the perpetrators. But senior Nato officials say privately that they are worried about delays in disarming the KLA and acknowledge that groups of its soldiers, still armed, are roaming the countryside.

The Serbs are increasingly the victims of killings, house burning and other violence, including reported rapes, in what are believed to be mostly revenge attacks by some of the 700,000 or so ethnic Albanian refugees who have returned to Kosovo under Nato protection since 12 June.

An estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed in a Serb crackdown before and during the 78-day Nato bombing campaign and now the minority Serb and Gypsy populations are most at risk. More than 100,000 have fled the province, jeopardising the UN goal of peace in a multi-ethnic Kosovo.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe urged that more protection be provided for Kosovo's minorities. "This violence against Serbs and other non-Albanian groups in Kosovo must stop, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice," said Knut Vollebaek, Norway's foreign minister and the chairman of the 54-country OSCE.

Yugoslavia has called for a UN Security Council meeting on the massacre and the safety of Serbs inside Kosovo. President Slobodan Milosevic - himself under indictment by an international tribunal for alleged war crimes in the province - insisted that Nato and the UN were responsible for the killings.

He demanded that Yugoslav troops be allowed to return under provisions of the Kosovo peace plan. The plan mentions the eventual return of troops, but would limit them to "hundreds, not thousands" and restrict them to guarding Serb churches and other religious and cultural sites.

Serbian media, meanwhile, reported more allegations of violence against Kosovo's Serbs.

The daily Glas, published inBelgrade, cited a Serb human rights group in Kosovo as saying that the body of a Serb farmer was found Saturday in the Gnjilane area. The state-run Tanjug news agency said Kosovo peacekeeping troops had detained five ethnic Albanians suspected of trying to blow up the apartment of a Kosovo Serb publisher. There was no immediate confirmation from Nato.

Some Albanian Kosovars fear that attacks on Serbs will give Russian troops, playing a more active role in peacekeeping, an excuse to side with the Kosovo Serbs. The fears were heightened by reports that the new Russian representative to KFor (Nato's Kosovo Force) Maj-Gen Alexander Perelyakin, was sacked from UN peacekeeping duties in l995 for allegedly collaborating with Serbian paramilitaries in Croatia.