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Diplomats Tour Kosovo

July 6, 1998

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Diplomats and journalists visited a devastated village and other areas in Kosovo today, getting a firsthand look at the havoc wreaked by battles between separatists and Serb forces.

In a convoy of nine cars and over a dozen media vehicles, envoys from the United States, Russia, Poland and the European Union traveled 120 miles through western Kosovo before returning to the provincial capital, Pristina.

Richard Miles, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Belgrade, said he and other diplomats were trying to find out ``who can control the guys with the guns _ the KLA.″

He was referring to the Kosovo Liberation Army, which refuses to take orders from political leaders in its quest to win independence for the Serb province where ethnic Albanians are the overwhelming majority.

The diplomats had hoped to make contact with the rebels today, but none were sighted.

Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Macedonia, said both sides had to compromise.

``There is no way Kosovo can shoot its way out of Serbia, but Belgrade cannot maintain a status quo,″ said Hill, urging Serb authorities to ``respond with a serious offer″ that would end repressive rule of the province.

In a symbolic gesture, the diplomats visited Donji Prekaz, site of the Serb police crackdown in March that killed 80 ethnic Albanians, including women and children. Since then, almost daily battles have erupted between Serb forces and separatists, leaving hundreds dead and forcing tens of thousands to flee.

At Donji Prekaz, 20 miles southwest of Pristina, the diplomats toured the ruins of houses.

The convoy moved unimpeded through three heavily fortified Serb police checkpoints. It departed amid reports of fighting near Pec, 45 miles west of Pristina.

The ethnic Albanian-run Kosovo Information Center said Serb forces shelled the village of Lodja today. Serb sources said the attack began after Albanians opened fire on Serb families, forcing Serb villagers and police to respond.

The pro-government Serb Media Center reported two policemen were killed and six others wounded at Lodja.

In violence elsewhere, the bodies of three men _ ethnic Albanians last seen going into their cornfields Sunday _ were discovered today on the road between Prizren and Djakovica.

Miles, the U.S. envoy, said today’s trip through southwestern Kosovo aimed to provide humanitarian organizations and foreign governments with an ``objective evaluation of what is happening in Kosovo.″

He suggested it was a dry run for further monitoring missions. ``The real patrolling will start Thursday, and there will be many patrols every day,″ he said.

Russian Ambassador Yuri Kotov said the observer mission would be a ``stabilizing factor″ in Kosovo.

Today’s mission followed a weekend of shuttling between Pristina and Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, by U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke. He was trying to lay the groundwork for talks between the Yugoslav government and leaders of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority.

In Pristina on Sunday, Holbrooke and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Nikolai Afanasyevsky urged ethnic Albanian politicians to rally behind moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova, insisting he is the best choice to speak for Kosovo’s Albanians.

The two met with representatives of the 16 ethnic Albanian parties. The KLA rebels did not attend the talks.

Milosevic has expressed willingness to restore autonomy he canceled in 1989, but Rugova and others are demanding full independence.

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