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Kosovo Unrest Leaves Serb Cop Dead

May 6, 1998

PONOSEVAC, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Unrest in Kosovo claimed at least three more lives Wednesday as Russia put new pressure on its traditional Serb allies to accept foreign mediation in talks with the province’s rebel Albanians.

Ethnic Albanian militants seeking to wrest control of Kosovo from Serbia struck Wednesday at a police patrol, killing one policeman and wounding two others. An attacker was also killed.

Albanians also said one of their regional politicians, Rifat Shala, died and his brother was badly wounded in an attack near Berane, 30 miles west of the provincial capital, Pristina.

The press center of Kosovo’s rebel Albanian leadership said a 77-year-old ethnic Albanian was found dead in a riverbed in Decani, near the border with Albania. Serb sources said the elderly man _ as well as another man _ were killed Tuesday and identified both as ethnic Albanians loyal to Serbia.

An Associated Press television crew in Kosovska Mitrovica, 25 miles northwest of Pristina, saw pools of blood at the scene of the attack on the police patrol. A police car was riddled with bullets and surrounded by hundreds of spent casings. The dead attacker’s body lay some 200 yards away.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But authorities suspect the Kosovo Liberation Army, the clandestine armed ethnic Albanian group that has claimed the lives of dozens of Serbs and pro-Serb ethnic Albanians since 1996.

Kosovo’s Albanians make up 90 percent of the province’s population. Most want independence from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, and seem increasingly prepared to fight. More than 150 people have been killed in Serb-Albanian fighting since Feb. 28.

Enver Maloku, an ethnic Albanian official, reported overnight shooting in the restive Drenica region, where a crackdown by Serb police in March set off the current daily bloodshed.

Near the Albanian border, sporadic gunfire was heard in the village of Ponosevac, reportedly the scene of fierce fighting in recent days.

The village was nearly deserted Wednesday, except for two dozen policemen in heavily reinforced positions. Several dead cows and horses lay strewn about. Authorities said Yugoslav soldiers guarding the border nearby came under fire Wednesday.

Last week, Washington and its allies introduced sanctions against Yugoslavia to pressure President Slobodan Milosevic into a peaceful solution. Only Russia, the Serbs’ most powerful ally, abstained.

Russia has backed Albanians’ demands for more autonomy, but ruled out independence or full home rule.

However, the Beta news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov as suggesting that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe get involved as a ``participant in establishing negotiations.″ Milosevic has refused foreign mediation.

Speaking Tuesday in Belgrade, Ivanov also reportedly said Russia is considering sending troops to Macedonia to join American and other soldiers as part of a U.N. force meant to contain Balkan tensions.

Update hourly