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Two U.S. Soldiers Die in Kosovo

July 19, 1999

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ In the first deaths of American peacekeepers in Kosovo, two U.S. soldiers were killed and three suffered minor injuries when their armored personnel carrier overturned.

The identities of the soldiers were not immediately released. Under a peace accord, Serb forces pulled out of the province and alliance troops began moving in last month.

Maj. Mark J. Ballesteros, a spokesman at the Americans’ headquarters, said today the accident occurred Sunday while the U.S. soldiers were on patrol near Domorovce, 10 miles northeast of Gnjilane, the Kosovo town where U.S. forces are based.

Officials said the two soldiers died of their injuries after the accident, in which their armored vehicle overturned after losing a track.

``This is a tragic accident and KFOR extends its sincerest condolences to the families of the lost servicemen,″ said Lt. Commander Louis Garneau, a spokesman for KFOR, the international peacekeeping force.

U.S. officialsa said the soldiers were assigned to Bravo Company in the 9th Engineer Battalion, part of the 1st Infantry Division based in Schweinfurt, Germany.

The two soldiers’ bodies were to be flown this evening out of Skopje, Macedonia, to Ramstein Germany’s Air Force base and then on to destinations chosen by their families.

A U.S. soldier died July 4 in a traffic accident in neighboring Macedonia, and two died in a helicopter crash in Albania while training in the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia.

Meanwhile, more evidence emerged today of the mass killings that claimed thousands of lives in the province earlier this year.

While British soldiers and weeping family members looked on, local authorities in the northern town of Podujevo exhumed 13 bodies _ including those of four children _ from a grave site discovered recently by villagers.

Scores of mass graves containing ethnic Albanians slaughtered by Serb forces have been discovered around the province since peacekeepers entered June 12.

Among the 13 bodies dug up in Podujevo today were those of an entire family, authorities at the site told Associated Press Television News.

Kosovo, a southern province of Serbia, is the dominant of Yugoslavia’s two republics. Though many Serbs regard it as the medieval cradle of their nation, its prewar population of 2 million was 90 percent ethnic Albanian.

For nearly three weeks, protests against President Slobodan Milosevic and his government have spread over much of Serbia as the opposition tries to capitalize on public anger over the defeat by NATO and de facto loss of Kosovo.

The New York Times reported today that opposition leader Vuk Draskovic has called for Milosevic _ who has been indicted on war crimes charges by a U.N. tribunal for alleged atrocities in Kosovo _ to be given immunity from arrest or extradition as an incentive to step down.

Draskovic said he planned to use public protests to force Milosevic to accept a transitional government and attempt to win over former Milosevic supporters.

``If we preach hatred and revenge, then we can’t broaden our support,″ Draskovic was quoted as telling the Times. ``Milosevic must accept when he realizes the majority of Serbia supports this program, but we can’t have a majority without some Milosevic supporters and we can’t get them by promising them prison and hatred in advance.″

Personal rivalry between Draskovic and opposition leader Zoran Djindjic, who jointly led huge anti-Milosevic protests three years ago, has splintered the opposition and helped Milosevic stay in power.

In an interview published today, Djindjic rejected cooperation with Draskovic, who has said that Milosevic’s ouster should not be the main opposition goal.

``Yugoslav President Milosevic must go first ... then, after that, reform, reconstruction and normalization of relations inside Yugoslavia and with the world can start,″ Djindjic said, according to the Montenegrin Vijesti daily.

Meanwhile, NATO continued to struggle to prevent ethnic attacks _ some by returning ethnic Albanian refugees seeking revenge against Kosovo’s Serbian minority and others by Serbs targeting ethnic Albanians.

Peacekeepers reported the discovery Sunday night of four ethnic Albanians killed Saturday near Klina in western Kosovo.

The bodies were discovered at a farm in Gornji Petric in the Klina area, Garneau said. No other details were immediately available.

Yugoslavia’s state-run Tanjug news agency carried more reports Sunday of alleged revenge attacks against Kosovo Serbs, including the killing of a married couple near Gnjilane.

The U.N. refugee agency voiced concern today about the violence.

``In general, the security situation in Kosovo leaves much to be desired,″ the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement. ``Many residents ... increasingly blame the poor security situation on gangs from Albania.″

The agency said today that more than 687,000 refugees have now returned to Kosovo from surrounding countries, with just over 100,000 remaining behind and some 2,000 to 3,000 returning daily.

More than 60,000 Serbs _ 25 percent of Kosovo’s former Serbian population _ have fled the province.

In an attempt to regain some sort of influence in Kosovo and to restore the confidence of local Serbs, the Yugoslav government announced today that a national assembly of Kosovo Serbs will be formed by the end of the week to protect the interest of Serbs in the province, the Beta private news agency reported.

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