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Serbs: MD’s Death May Spur Exodus

February 27, 2000

GNJILANE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ A Serb doctor who was a moderate political representative for his dwindling community in this multiethnic, eastern Kosovo town was buried Sunday, and locals said his killing would prompt Serbs and other minorities to flee.

Josif Vasic, 38, a gynecologist, was one of only five Serb doctors remaining in the U.S.-controlled Gnjilane region. He was also Gnjilane’s representative in the Serb National Council, which represents the province’s Serbs.

He was shot and killed early Saturday by unknown assailants as he walked to work through a Serb part of town, said a friend who would give his name only as Dragan K for fear of reprisal attacks.

Serbs in Gnjilane avoid using main roads in town for fear of attacks, sticking to smaller alleys and paths within the Serb areas, said a medical student who would give only his initials, M.P.

``We considered it a safe route,″ he said. ``We definitely don’t any more.″

But mourners, many of whom arrived at the funeral by bus under the armed protection of American peacekeepers, said Vasic was a moderate who believed in a multiethnic Kosovo and treated both Serb and Albanian patients.

``He was shot because he believed the Serbs could stay in Kosovo and could live together with the Albanians here,″ said Dragan K. ``His belief cost him his head.″

The Serb National Council said Vasic’s killing was part of ``the latest wave of violence and ethnic cleansing by Kosovo Albanian extremists,″ and criticized international peacekeepers for failing to protect the province’s dwindling Serb community.

NATO forces entered Kosovo in June following a 78-day bombing campaign to halt a crackdown on ethnic Albanians, who are in the majority. Since then, more than 100,000 Serbs have fled the province as revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians continue.

There were other violent incidents over the weekend that appeared to be ethnically motivated.

On Saturday, a Serb policeman and an ethnic Albanian were killed and three Serb police officers were wounded during an attack on a police patrol in southern Serbia.

In a statement carried by Serbia’s official state-run new agency, Tanjug, the police said Sunday that ``a group of Albanian terrorists″ attacked the Serb police patrol late Saturday near the village of Konculj, 175 miles southeast of Belgrade.

Police said the Albanian killed was a member of the Kosovo Protection Force, which is made up of members of the officially disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army. The KLA was created by pro-independence fighters in the Kosovo province and was disbanded after NATO deployed in Kosovo last year.

Riza Halimi, an ethnic Albanian who heads Serbia’s Presevo district, said attacks on Serbian police ``have deteriorated the situation″ and that local ethnic Albanians were beginning to form guerrilla units similar to the KLA.

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