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Ethnic Tension Mounts in Kosovo

TOM COHENAugust 5, 1999

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ A Serb in a convoy carrying families out of Kosovo and an ethnic Albanian were killed in a shootout that erupted as the column passed through a village near the provincial border, U.S. peacekeeping troops reported.

The deaths Wednesday were the latest in a spate of ethnic-based killings and other violence that still frustrate the NATO and U.N. missions in Kosovo, seven weeks after Serb-led Yugoslav troops pulled out under a peace agreement.

The exchange of gunfire occurred in the village of Dobrocane, about 30 miles southeast of Pristina in the sector of Kosovo assigned to U.S. forces.

Ethnic Albanians began throwing rocks at a convoy of Serbs as it passed through the village, said U.S. Army Spec. Jeremy Ausburn. He said someone in the convoy responded with gunshots, killing an ethnic Albanian man.

The Albanians then returned fire, hitting one Serb man before the convoy rushed out of the village and reached a Russian checkpoint. The injured man was taken to a Russian medical facility, where he died.

Several convoys have left the area in recent weeks, sometimes with the help of U.S. troops, carrying Serbs who fear revenge attacks from ethnic Albanians. By some estimates, more than 160,000 have left Kosovo for safer parts of Serbia.

Serbs have been frequent victims of harassment, arson and murder since hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians flooded back into Kosovo under NATO protection last month. Many of the returnees have found their homes ransacked and relatives dead or missing after an earlier Serb crackdown on secessionists.

The U.N. mission chief, Bernard Kouchner, said Wednesday that he could understand their animosity, but could in no way condone reprisal attacks.

``People believe all over the world that now the war in Kosovo is over,″ Kouchner said as he visited graves in northern Kosovo where war crimes experts are investigating a suspected massacre of ethnic Albanians. ``That is not true, because of the families suffering. ... It’s a long story. It’s always a long story.″

He said it was the first time he had been confronted with ``the reality of mass murder,″ adding that the visit to the graves helped him understand the level of animosity that persists in Kosovo.

Investigators have identified 72 graves in and around an existing cemetery on a hill overlooking the mining town of Kosovska Mitrovica, and have retrieved 40 to 50 bodies for autopsies in the past 10 days, said Paul Risley, a spokesman for the international war crimes tribunal.

Some of the corpses were in body bags, and the bodies appeared to have been transported to the site over a period from April to June, just before Serb forces fled, he said.

``Some of them appear to have been tortured,″ Risley said. Most had been shot at close range.

NATO peacekeepers have found scores of similar sites since entering Kosovo in mid-June.

In other new reports of violence, the private Yugoslav news agency Beta said a Serb man was killed Wednesday in Vitina, about 35 miles south of Pristina. The report, quoting Serb Orthodox Church sources, said three armed Albanians killed the 39-year-old man in his bed and beat up his mother.

Also Wednesday, Maj. Roland Lavoie, a spokesman for the peacekeeping force, said the bodies of a Serb man and woman in their 50s killed in separate incidents had been discovered in Pristina the previous day. The man had been kidnapped by four people before being shot to death, according to his wife. No details on the second death were released.

Eight ethnic Albanians were arrested Tuesday for using threats to evict 17 Serbs from their homes in Bogosevac in western Kosovo, Lavoie said. They were jailed in the city of Prizren.

The Yugoslav state-run news agency Tanjug said 12 Serbs had been killed over a 24-hour period from Monday to Tuesday -- five in Pristina and seven elsewhere in Kosovo.

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