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Kosovo Albanians Swapped for Serbs

November 13, 1998

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Armed Serb civilians swapped hostages with ethnic Albanian guerrillas today in Kosovo, amid reports that Serb police shot and killed an ethnic Albanian villager.

Two Serb civilians held since Wednesday by the separatist guerillas were released in exchange for seven ethnic Albanians remaining in Serb hands, according to sources from the three parties involved: the Serbs, ethnic Albanians and international monitors.

Beginning Wednesday, armed Serbs seized as many as 100 Kosovo Albanians by stopping vehicles on a road from neighboring Montenegro, which along with the larger Serbia makes up Yugoslavia.

They were seeking the release of two people missing in the central Drenica region, a trouble spot during much of this year’s eight-month crackdown by Serb forces on guerrillas seeking independence for Kosovo, a province in southern Serbia.

Today’s exchange returning the two missing Serbs took place at Leposavic, a village near the boundary with Montenegro.

Ethnic Albanians make up about 90 percent of the province’s 2 million inhabitants, and most favor independence or self-rule. The Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists has left hundreds dead, mostly Albanian civilians, and made refugees of hundreds of thousands more.

The detentions and continued violence reflect the high level of tension between Serbs and ethnic Albanians, even after an Oct. 12 agreement to end the Kosovo crisis.

Today in the central Kosovo village of Mlecane, witnesses said Serb police fired on a group of ethnic Albanian men and children, killing a 40-year-old man. The Kosovo Information Center, close to the ethnic Albanian leadership, also reported the violence.

Villager Tafil Kryeziu, 19, said six police pulled up in an unmarked car Thursday and shot at the group.

Reporters visiting Mlecane today saw two pools of blood amid about 20 scattered machine-gun shells where the shooting reportedly happened. Male villagers, who only recently returned to the homes they left earlier, said all the women and children had fled again.

``We aren’t normal folks anymore. Whenever we see a car, we run away because we’re afraid,″ villager Ismajl Gashi said.

Also today, a U.N. refugee agency released the initial results of a survey that estimated 100,000 people are now displaced in Kosovo and 125,000 more are outside its borders. It also said 60 percent of the houses in villages surveyed have been either destroyed or heavily damaged.

About 65,000 people have returned home since the Oct. 12 agreement, the report said.

``The situation is still very, very precarious,″ said Kris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said Thursday that results from the agreement were taking shape, ``but we have a long way to go.″

Hill said he would go to the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade today to talk with Serb authorities about giving Kosovo Albanians wide autonomy.

Update hourly