Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Two killed in Kosovo grenade attack as hostilities continue

A GRENADE attack on a marketplace killed two people and wounded nearly 40 yesterday morning in Kosovo Polje, a mostly Serb suburb south- west of the Kosovo capital, Pristina.

Officials with the Nato-led Kosovo peace-keeping force, K-For, said two rocket-propelled grenades exploded at about 10.30 in a market crowded with shoppers in the Bresje neighbourhood. Four of the survivors were said to be wounded critically, and were taken for treatment to a Russian military clinic in the town, the site of a 1389 battle that Serbs associate with their conquest by the Ottoman Turks.

The attack comes a day after K-For troops confiscated weapons from some Serb homes in the area, prompting local Serbs to stage a demonstration that blocked traffic on Kosovo's main east-west road from Pristina to the western Kosovo city of Pec. A K-For spokesman said the two cases were not related.

The United States diplomatic office in Pristina warned Americans to be on alert for "a potential terrorist threat" against its citizens, but did not elaborate.

UN international police were leading the investigation into the grenade attack, which prompted renewed calls by Serbs in Kosovo and Belgrade for the return of the Yugoslav army and Serbian Ministry of Interior police to the province.

Under the 15 June agreement between Nato and the Yugoslav military, the K-For leader, Lieutenant-General Mike Jackson, can determine when some Serbian police and Yugoslav military forces may be allowed to return to the province. Serbian media have claimed that some police and army would be allowed to return to the province at the end of September.

The Kosovo Polje attack comes amid continued ethnic violence in Kosovo, which persists despite the presence of 45,000 peace-keeping troops, and more than 1,000 international police. Since Yugoslav forces withdrew and K-For forces arrived in Kosovo in June, Belgrade officials claim that 300 Serbs have been killed, and another 500 kidnapped.

Serbs claim the international troops are not able to protect them from Albanian extremists bent on revenge, while ethnic Albanians fear that Serbian paramilitaries continue to infiltrate the province.

French UN forces said yesterday that the bodies of more than 20 ethnic Albanians have been exhumed from a mass burial site in Vidomiric. Seven bodies have been identified. They were among 23 ethnic Albanian men rounded up during a paramilitary raid on Popovic Street in Mitrovica on 14 April, three weeks after the start of the Nato bombing campaign.

The French said they had arrested four Serbs suspected of the killings. A Serb suspect questioned by French police revealed where the bodies had been buried.

Five more suspected Serb war criminals were arrested by Dutch and German troops over the weekend in the south-western town of Orahovac, which is surrounded by villages where Serb atrocities occurred. UN officials now believe that as many as 100,000 Serbs remain in the province, about half the prewar Serb population.

Last week Kosovo Serb leaders quit the UN-backed Transitional Council, a body made up of Kosovo's political leaders, in protest at the formation of the Kosovo Protection Corps. The UN insists the 5,000-strong unit, which was created in the wake of the dismantling of the Kosovo Liberation Army, is entirely civilian in nature. But Kosovo Serb critics say it is merely another name and uniform for the rebel army.

Momcilo Trajkovic, a Kosovo Serb leader among those who quit the council, has proposed that Kosovo be divided into ethnic cantons, and suggested that Kosovo's Serbs will create their own protection corps.

The UN chief official, Bernard Kouchner, has rejected Mr Trajkovic's proposal for ethnically partitioning Kosovo. But in fact, Kosovo's population is increasingly sifting into ethnically distinct enclaves. Kosovo's remaining Serbs are now mostly clustered in half a dozen ghettos scattered around the country.