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Violence Shrinks Kosovo Peace Hopes

April 28, 1998

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Backed by helicopter gunships, the Yugoslav army clashed Monday with ethnic Albanians and reported killing three insurgents. Albanian reports said up to a dozen people _ none of them militants _ were slain.

The latest violence further hampered the chances of a negotiated solution to the future of Kosovo, where Albanians _ 90 percent of the province’s population _ want independence. That option has been ruled out by the government of Serbia, the dominant republic of Yugoslavia.

The violence began early Monday when a group of militants attempted to smuggle weapons into Kosovo from neighboring Albania and fired at troops, the Serb government said Monday.

The army fired back, killing or wounding seven and forcing the others to flee. Yugoslav troops found large quantities of weapons and ammunition at the site of the clash, said the report, which quoted army sources.

Serbia’s state-run TV interviewed an ethnic Albanian who was reportedly captured in the skirmish. He said his group smuggled arms from neighboring Albania.

Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leaders said the army engaged the Albanians in Kosovo some six miles away from the border. It said a dozen were killed _ none of them militant separatists. They also said local villagers were fleeing the area in panic.

Neither report could be independently confirmed because Serb security forces have blocked off the area.

In Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, several thousand ethnic Albanians stood in silence for 10 minutes Monday to mourn the deaths of 25 countrymen killed by federal troops last week. Monday’s protest was the 18th in as many days by Kosovo Albanians.

Despite the weakening chances of bridging differences through negotiations, the Serbian government called Monday on the leader of Kosovo’s Albanians to hold direct talks on the province’s status within Serbia.

Ethnic Albanians have so far refused 11 such offers, demanding foreign mediation. But Serbia’s voters overwhelmingly rejected such mediation in a referendum last week.

Meanwhile, the European Union on Monday threatened to step up sanctions against Yugoslavia unless it stops using soldiers against Kosovo Albanians. Last month, the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Serbia.

A NATO official said Monday that the alliance might intervene in the province to prevent unrest from spreading.

``The situation in Kosovo is really explosive and very dangerous indeed,″ Klaus-Peter Klaiber, assistant secretary-general of NATO’s political affairs, said in Helsinki, Finland.

The United States, which has been working with five other nations for a solution in Kosovo, said it will adopt unilateral measures if it cannot persuade the five to accept its proposal.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in Washington that the proposal calls for punitive measures if the Yugoslav government refuses to enter peace talks. Alternatively, if Yugoslavia shows flexibility, that would lead to the eventual lifting of sanctions.

About 150 people have been killed in Kosovo since Feb. 28, when Serb security forces first launched a massive sweep they say was aimed at wiping out militant ethnic Albanian separatists.

Tensions escalated in 1989, when the Serbian government revoked Kosovo’s autonomy.

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