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Violence against Serbs escalates

A NEW spate of violence is erupting in Kosovo, including grenade attacks, bombings, shootings, and civil unrest. Separate grenade attacks on Serb-run bars in the capital, Pristina, and the nearby town of Obiliq injured 10 people late on Saturday night, while a bomb exploded on Sunday night in a travel agency close to the Pristina headquarters of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

A bomb threat against Pristina's Grand Hotel, popular with international officials and journalists, was made to K-For, the Nato-led peace-keepers, in the Serbian language, but no bomb was found. The hotel was until recently under Serbian management, but is now run by the brother of the Kosovo Liberation Army commander Agim Ceku.

Meanwhile, ethnic Albanians and French peace-keepers clashed for the third day running yesterday in the ethnically divided northern city of Kosovska Mitrovica. Ethnic Albanians are angry that the French troops are blocking their march across the bridge, which now partitions the city's Albanian and Serb communities. The Albanians accuse the French of sympathising with Mitrovica's Serbs, among whom, the Albanians say, are paramilitaries guilty of war crimes. In addition, the Albanians say the French are preventing them from reclaiming property on the less heavily destroyed northern side of the city, which is divided by the River Ibar.

The spokesman for the French troops in Mitrovica, Captain Bertrand Bonneau, says if the French soldiers allowed the Albanians to march en masse into the Serb side someone would be likely to get killed. They are allowing small groups of women, children and the elderly to cross from either side, but men of military age cross at their peril.

Violence continues to be directed at Kosovo's dwindling Serbian community. The last Serbian paediatrician said to be working in Pristina was shot while treating patients in his town-centre clinic, and is reported to be critically injured. Zlatoje Gligorijevic was taken to a Pristina hospital with injuries to his kidneys, spleen and stomach. British K-For troops in Pristina are reported to have started a "granny patrol" intended to help to stop the spate of attacks against elderly Serbian women in Kosovo.

Fewer than 50,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo, whose pre-war Serb population was estimated to be 200,000. The largest number remain in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica (20,000), the southeastern Gnjilane area (10,000), in a Serbian ghetto in the southwestern Kosovo city of Orahovac (3,000), and in Pristina (1,000).

In the Serbian capital, Belgrade, the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, warned against Serbian traitors destroying the country, while urging Serbian diaspora members to invest in the reconstruction of their homeland.

"It would be sad if the long hand of the evil inflicted by Nato on our country were a hand of our citizens," he told those gathered for the three- day Diaspora '99 meeting.

While Mr Milosevic tried to gain support and funds from the diaspora, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church embarked on an ambitious schedule of meetings with the political opposition.

Yesterday Patriarch Pavle was due to meet Mladjan Dinkic, the co-ordinator of the Group of 17, which has proposed that Mr Milosevic step down, to be replaced by a provisional government made up of technocrats, economists, and other experts. Patriarch Pavle was also expected to meet Zoran Djindjic and Vuk Draskovic, leaders of two opposition political parties.