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Peacekeepers, Ethnic Albanians Clash

August 12, 1999

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia _ Ethnic Albanians opened fire Thursday on international peacekeepers trying to prevent another revenge attack on Serbs, while hundreds of Albanians elsewhere in Kosovo protested the presence of Russian troops they say sympathize with Serbs.

In the town of Velika Krusa, meanwhile, several hundred mourners wept as 75 coffins were lowered into two rows of fresh graves. It was the largest reburial so far of ethnic Albanians killed by Serb forces in Belgrade’s yearlong crackdown on the majority Albanian province.

Human rights investigators believe about 10,000 ethnic Albanians died in the Serb crackdown. Now, however, Serb-instigated violence is increasingly being replaced by acts of revenge committed by ethnic Albanians against Serbs remaining in Kosovo.

International officials have condemned the ethnic Albanians’ recent violent recriminations, calling them a repetition of Serb brutality that ended in June after a 78-day NATO bombing campaign.

On Thursday, British troops detained seven men following a car chase and a shootout with ethnic Albanians in a Serb area just north of Pristina, the provincial capital, said British Lt. Col. Robin Hodges.

Two of the seven men were wounded by British fire, and a man who escaped also was believed to be wounded, he said. The troops were patrolling in a spot where Serbs had been threatened and told to leave, Hodges said.

Meanwhile, about 2,000 ethnic Albanians in Kosovska Kamenica, in southeastern Kosovo, demonstrated to demand that Russian peacekeepers be sent home.

The protest ended without incident, but underscored the deep suspicions ethnic Albanians have of Russia, a longtime Yugoslav ally whom they accuse of being sympathetic to Serbs.

On Wednesday, ethnic Albanian protesters scuffled with Russian and U.S. troops in an anti-Russian demonstration in the southeastern village of Dobrcane. Ethnic Albanians also have repeatedly clashed with French troops in the divided northern city of Kosovska Mitrovica.

French Defense Minister Alain Richard said Thursday that while the ethnic Albanians involved in the clashes were a ``minority,″ further violence will be difficult to prevent because of the ethnic hatreds dividing Kosovo’s Serbs and Albanians.

At the reburial in Velika Krusa, however, none of the mourners spoke out for revenge.

The 75 victims were killed in a March 27 massacre, one of those cited in the indictment charging Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic with war crimes.

Lined up side by side in a line more than 100 yards long, most coffins had the name and year of birth of the victim inside. Some had the person’s picture on top. But 25 were simply marked ``unidentified.″

Women in white scarves of mourning huddled around the coffins, wailing and moaning in the midday sun. Teen-ager Alma Bytyqi, reading a poem to her dead father, declared, ``Your blood will make the dream of Kosovo come true.″

Then it was time to carry the coffins up a small embankment to place them in two rows of fresh graves. Lines of coffin-bearers formed on the dirt path and struggled to carry the loads up to the graves.

Considered a stronghold of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, Velika Krusa, 55 miles southwest of Pristina, was an apparent target of a Serb campaign to wipe out ethnic Albanians after NATO bombs began falling on March 24.

John Bunn, head of Scotland Yard’s forensic team, investigated the area last month. He said then that the victims at Velika Krusa had been shot in the back of the head at close range.

``They were obviously women and children huddled together and that did not stop people from shooting them,″ Bunn said.

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