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Serbs Mourn Slain Farmers

July 28, 1999

GRACKO, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Laying flowers on the coffins as a NATO helicopter buzzed overhead, hundreds of villagers mourned 14 Serb farmers today and demanded better NATO protection from ethnic violence in Kosovo.

Peacekeepers, meanwhile, detained four men for questioning in the killings, the worst attack in the violence that has plagued the NATO-led mission trying since June to enforce peace in the Serb province.

Maj. Jan Joosten of Denmark, a mission spokesman, said the four men, seized in dawn raids on houses in and around Gracko, the slain farmers’ home village, had not been charged. He did not disclose the ethnicity of the men.

The 14 wooden coffins, each topped with a black cross and a piece of cardboard with the victim’s name, were laid out on an asphalt court in the middle of a sports field in Gracko, a village 15 miles southwest of Pristina, the provincial capital.

``They are criminals,″ wailed one woman in the crowd of some 350 mourners, cursing the gunmen who mowed down the 14 men with automatic weapons fire in a wheat field near the village. Kosovo’s Serbs accuse ethnic Albanians in the slayings.

Security was heavy, and British soldiers checked all cars entering the village. Troops and armored personnel carriers were stationed around the sports field, and a helicopter circled overhead as weeping mourners placed flowers, wreaths and prayer cards on the coffins.

``Suddenly they depart this world, but their only consolation is they didn’t depart this world like criminals, like the ones who took their fields and are burning our houses,″ said Patriarch Pavle, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who led the service.

A local man, Stefan Lalic, urged fellow Serbs not to flee the village. ``We must stay so that our church doesn’t become Muslim,″ he told mourners, referring to the predominant religion among Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians.

``It’s a demonstration of sorrow for the dead and a protest″ for the living, said Father Milorad of Pristina, before the service. Serbs, he said, ``are not satisfied with the protection from KFOR.″

The new U.N. administrator in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner of France, who attended the service, insisted, ``We must find the truth, and justice must pass.″

From the stadium, a procession headed for the main cemetery to bury the dead.

Some 100,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo since Yugoslav troops left the province and the peacekeeping force _ known by the acronym KFOR _ began moving in. The Serbs are fleeing attacks by ethnic Albanians seeking revenge for massacres and expulsions committed against them by Serb troops. The ethnic Albanian rebel group, the Kosovo Liberation Army, has denied any role in the Gracko slayings.

Violence in Kosovo over the past six weeks has included almost 200 killings, hundreds of house burnings and other unrest, mostly in revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians on the Serb minority.

Serb and Yugoslav forces killed an estimated 10,000 people, and more than 860,000 ethnic Albanians fled or were expelled from Kosovo before and during the 78-day NATO air campaign, which began March 24.

As Serbs have left Kosovo, more than 720,000 ethnic Albanian refugees have returned to homes they fled during the yearlong crackdown by Serb security forces in the province.

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