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Albanians Extend Kosovo Blockade

August 27, 1999

ORAHOVAC, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Ethnic Albanians erected a tent city Friday along a makeshift road barricade designed to keep out Russian troops, signaling increasing resistance to NATO efforts to resolve the weeklong protest.

The scene resembled a refugee camp, with a dozen new tents pitched alongside the road and a huge central tent on the pavement for people to sleep in overnight. Red Cross workers filtered through the crowd Friday, handing out diarrhea pills.

The mood was defiant. Kosovo Albanians say the Russians _ traditional Serb allies _ were involved in atrocities committed against them during a crackdown that ended only after NATO’s bombing this spring forced a pullout of Serb troops.

``We are ready to give our lives here so that not a single Russian boot steps into Orahovac,″ said 66-year-old Bahtjar Spahiu, standing at the front of the barricade. ``Russian tanks can go through me but I won’t move.″

The Orahovac standoff underscored the depth of hatred in Kosovo following the province’s 18-month war, which ended after NATO bombed Yugoslavia for 78 days. During the Serb crackdown, more than 800,000 ethnic Albanians were driven from their homes and an estimated 10,000 civilians were killed.

Dutch, German and Russian officers met again Friday with local ethnic Albanian leaders but failed to persuade them to lift the barricade erected Monday to allow Russian peacekeepers to take up positions in the town.

German Brig. Gen. Wolfgang Sauer said he expected the blockade to continue until another meeting Monday.

The decision to station Russians in Orahovac was made among U.S., NATO and Russian officials in June and ``we are not in a position to negotiate″ any changes, Sauer said.

A Kosovo Liberation Army commander, meanwhile, turned up unexpectedly at the Friday meeting.

Carrying a sidearm and flanked by two of uniformed bodyguards, Sadik Halitjaha said the Russians must apologize to Kosovo’s Albanians for alleged crimes committed by their mercenaries who fought with the Serbs.

Even that, Halitjaha said, would not be enough for the ethnic Albanians of Orahovac to lift the blockade.

NATO troops deployed in Kosovo have been unable to stop a wave of revenge attacks against Serbs, Gypsies and other minorities by ethnic Albanians, who formed 90 percent of Kosovo’s 2.1 million population before the war.

The pervasive anti-Serb violence plays into the hands of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is orchestrating an anti-American campaign that he hopes will help him stay in power despite daily protests against his rule.

``I don’t understand the world anymore,″ chemistry student Osman Hasku, one of the Orahovac protesters, said of NATO’s leaders. ``They want the Serbs to bring down the world’s worst dictator through protests there, but when we protest, they say: ’Sorry, we have an agreement.‴

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