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Kosovo Conflict Intensifies

February 23, 1999

VUCITRN, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Both warring sides in Kosovo were accused of provocations as the impending end of peace talks in France renewed the threat of a wider conflict in the separatist province.

International monitors today were looking into Serb police claims that a Serb civilian was killed and two others were wounded when ethnic Albanian rebels attacked a northern village late Monday.

Verifiers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe confirmed fighting in the Serb village of Bukos, just west of the town of Vucitrn, but waited until daylight hours to investigate.

Serb police said the Kosovo Liberation Army retreated from the village after about an hour of shooting when police forces entered.

That battle followed a gunfire exchange between the two sides nearby that lasted several hours Monday. The monitors blamed it on a provocation by the Yugoslav army, which moved troops through KLA territory.

The fighting came during the final scheduled hours of peace talks in Rambouillet, France.

Amid fears both sides will intensify military efforts once talks are over, OSCE verifiers are reporting an increase in movement by Yugoslav army troops in recent days, spokesman Jorgen Grunnet said.

The army, which has been under threat of NATO strikes if the Serbs are deemed responsible for the talks’ failure, was blamed for Monday’s daytime skirmish in the area of Vucitrn, 20 miles north of the province’s capital, Pristina.

OSCE official Ferdinand Schafler said army troops, in moving from one location to another, traveled through rebel territory to ``provoke″ an attack by the KLA. No serious casualties were reported in the ensuing exchange of gunfire.

About 200 civilians fled their homes before returning later in the day when the army and police left.

Kosovo, a province in southern Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia, is populated overwhelmingly by independence-seeking ethnic Albanians. More than 2,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless in a year of fighting.

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