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Sunday, December 20, 1998 Published at 17:09 GMT

World: Europe

Kosovo protests mar peace efforts

International mediators went to Pristina this weekend

Tensions in Kosovo have been mounting this weekend with two separate protests symbolising the polarisation between Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

Thousands of ethnic Albanians and about 1,000 guerrillas attended the funeral of 36 people killed by Serb border guards on Monday.

The funeral took place on Sunday in a field dubbed "the Tomb of Heroes" 38 miles north west of the region's capital Pristina.

Leading members of the secessionist Kosovo Liberation Army were expected to speak to mourners.

Earlier in the day, about 300 Serbs in the village of Kosovo Polje, west of Pristina, began a protest against Albanian separatists over the killing of their deputy mayor, Zvonko Bojanic.

His body was found on Friday. He had been shot between the eyes. Serb leaders blame ethnic Albanian "terrorists" for his death.

The villagers are demanding the return of Serb security forces to protect them.

Meanwhile, Serb police say they have retaliated after being attacked by ethnic Albanians on the road from Pristina to Pec.

Full-scale fighting

The latest round of killings lessens international hopes that a return to full-scale fighting can be averted.

Since February, more than 1,000 people have been killed in the province and some 300,000 people have been forced to leave their homes.

[ image: Serb border police killed the 36 ethnic Albanians]
Serb border police killed the 36 ethnic Albanians
In October, US envoy Richard Holbrooke brokered a deal with President Milosevic to end full-scale fighting, amid threats of NATO airstrikes.

However, Zivorad Igic, an ally of President Milosevic, is reported by the Tanjug news agency on Sunday to have accused the US of supporting Albanian "terrorists".

He also accuses Albania of becoming the main shelter and arms supplier of independence fighters. He said dozens of people had been killed by the guerrillas since October.

Albanian leaders

On Saturday, French and Austrian envoys led members of the six-member international contact group on Kosovo to talks with ethnic Albanian leaders.

Their aim is to bring together the KLA and more moderate ethnic Albanian leaders represented by Ibrahim Rugova for talks with Serb officials.

[ image: The KLA may consider laying down arms to take part in talks]
The KLA may consider laying down arms to take part in talks
The KLA has been excluded from talks up until now because of its continuing use of violence.

Austrian envoy Wolfgang Petritsch said there were signs that the KLA could be considering laying down its arms.

"There are positive signals that the KLA is realising...that they have to decide whether to continue on the military path or if they want to join the political negotiating process," he said.

He added that there were also signs that Mr Rugova's side, which is willing to accept greater autonomy for Kosovo within Serbia, would work with the KLA to ensure all ethnic Albanians were included in any future diplomatic talks.

However, the Serbs say they are firmly opposed to the KLA taking part.

Meanwhile, the UN's high commissioner for refugees, Sadako Ogata, has flown into Kosovo to review the humanitarian situation.

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