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KFOR Accused of Covering Up Killings

November 12, 1999

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ The leaders of Kosovo’s Serb minority on Thursday accused peacekeepers of purposely reducing the count of murdered Serbs in order to cover up their failure to protect non-Albanians.

The accusation was made in a statement by the Serb National Council, according to the Belgrade-based Beta news agency. It came after NATO released figures Wednesday saying 379 people have been killed in Kosovo since June, including 135 Serbs.

But the Serb council said 357 Serbs have been killed and 450 kidnapped from the time the peacekeepers were deployed in June until Sept. 1. Data for September, October and November are still being collected, it said.

While no recent census figures are available, the ethnic Albanian population was nearly 2 million in Kosovo before many were temporarily pushed out by the Serbs this spring. Most are believed to have returned since international peacekeepers entered the province after the end of NATO bombing.

The Serb population, originally around 200,000, has been fleeing attacks by ethnic Albanians seeking revenge for the earlier Serb crackdown that left 10,000 people dead. The Serb population in Kosovo today is thought to number only in the tens of thousands.

Meanwhile, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata said Thursday that she was encouraged by the present situation in Kosovo, but surprised by the level of ``hatred and vengence″ that persists.

``Compared to the spring, I feel slightly relaxed,″ she told a news conference at U.N headquarters Thursday in New York.

Since the end of the NATO air and missile strikes against Yugoslavia in May, about 800,000 refugees have returned, while some 100,000 mainly ethnic Serbs have fled the province.

``We did not bring back one group of people in order that another group of people would be fleeing,″ she said.

The refugee chief said that although she anticipated serious problems in Kosovo, the ethnic tensions encountered by UNHCR workers were ``worse than I had expected.″

``The sense of hatred and vengeance is there,″ she said, and even with the presence of NATO forces ``it is still not possible to prevent people from being killed, expelled and threatened.″

However, Ogata said she was encouraged by the pace of a program undertaken by UNHCR and other agencies to ``winterize″ Kosovo by providing insulation for homes and public buildings.

As NATO peacekeepers push to gain a firmer grip on crime, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Henry H. Shelton expressed increasing frustration Thursday with the slow pace of progress in helping Kosovo get back on its feet in the aftermath of the war.

In a brief Veterans’ Day visit to U.S. troops stationed in Kosovo, Shelton said the international community should step forward to provide money needed to fund U.N. police and other governmental institutions to prepare the southern Serb province to solidify its peace.

``There is a void between what the military can accomplish and what is needed for a sustainable peace,″ he said.

Yet even as NATO continues efforts to protect Serbs from revenge-motivated violence, the murder rate in Kosovo is not diminishing.

Senior foreign officials inside the province and abroad have appealed for an end to the targeting of Serbs and Gypsies, or Roma, and the start of the creation of a multiethnic society. In presenting the figures Wednesday, NATO officials said murders had actually slightly increased over the last two weeks.

Also Thursday, NATO sent 16 members of a multiethnic defense unit to specialized training in France to teach them the finer points of civil defense activities, such as controlling riots and performing mountain rescues.

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