Peace-keepers in Kosovo attacked

A RUSSIAN peacekeeper was wounded in southeastern Kosovo last night, in one of several attacks against US, Russian, and German peacekeeping troops in Kosovo.

A spokesman for the Nato-led Kosovo peacekeeping force K-For said the Russian peacekeeper was shot in the left thigh by unknown assailants while manning a checkpoint in the US sector in southeastern Kosovo. Major Jan Joosten said the soldier was resting comfortably in a US army hospital. Major Joosten said three Russian checkpoints in the area had come under small-arms fire. The Russians shot back at the assailants, but no one was detained.

"K-For is very concerned about the current attacks against the soldiers and people should be reminded that our soldiers have robust rules of engagement and the right to defend themselves,'' Joosten said yesterday in the provincial capital Pristina.

To date there have been at least 30 incidents in which K-For forces have come under hostile fire. Russian peacekeepers, who Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority considers sympathetic to fellow Orthodox Christian Serbs, have been the target of many of the attacks.

Following the overnight attacks, some 3,000 ethnic Albanians protested over the presence of Russian troops in the town of Kosovska Kamenica, in what they said was the 14th day of their protests. Similar protests by Albanians against the deployment of Russian troops have occurred in the southwestern Kosovo city of Orahovac.

The area of the attacks against the Russian troops, in villages around the southeastern Kosovo city of Gnjilane, has been particularly tense. Some 10,000 Serbs remain in the Gnjilane area, more than elsewhere in Kosovo, which has seen more than three-quarters of its Serb population flee.

The United Nations refugee agency reported earlier this week that dozens of formerly ethnically-mixed villages in the area are on the way to becoming villages divided into ethnically pure enclaves - Serbs moving to some areas, Albanians to others.

The Russian peacekeepers have not been the only target of the attacks. On Thursday, US K-For soldiers protecting a Serbian house in the southeastern town of Urosevac also came under fire, and German troops arrested eight ethnic Albanians in the southwestern city of Prizren, after shots were fired above a K-For checkpoint. In Belgrade, meanwhile, President Milosevic denounced his opponents at home in his first comments after a month of protest. He called the demonstrations an "extended hand of evil" of a Western attempt "to undermine our stability".

Speaking at a convention of emigre Serbs and Montenegrins, Mr Milosevic said the ongoing rallies across Serbia, organised by opposition parties demanding his resignation, would not triumph. "We will not give in to pressures ... by which Nato, through various corrupt politicians is trying to undermine our stability," Mr Milosevic said. He also condemned Nato peacekeepers for "not carrying out their responsibility to protect all citizens in Kosovo." More than 150,000 Serbs have fled the province.

Kim Sengupta, Review page4