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Saturday, July 17, 1999 Published at 05:23 GMT 06:23 UK


World: Europe

Kosovo reprisals horrify UN

Gypsies have also been attacked

Kosovo Albanians are waging a systematic campaign to kill, kidnap and expel Serbs from the province as they wreak revenge for past atrocities, the UN refugee agency has said.

Kosovo: Special Report
UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said protection of the Serb minority in the province was now the "most critical issue".

The most serious reprisals have been in the provincial capital Pristina, the towns of Prizren and Orahovac, and in surrounding villages - areas which saw some of the worst Serb violence against ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo conflict.


The BBC's Claire Doole: Aid workers are shocked at the scale of anti-Serb violence
"In Prizren, nearly 50 Serb houses were set alight in less than a week in what appears to be a systematic campaign against Serbs," Mr Janowski said.

"Non-Serb neighbours have been seen dousing their own homes with water in advance of house burnings," he added.

The BBC's Claire Doole says reprisals were expected, but aid workers have been shocked by their scale.

She says the Nato-led peacekeeping force, K-For, is having to guard Serbs around the clock, but is increasingly unable to protect them and other minorities.

In one incident, two Serbs were abducted from a UNHCR-run centre in Pristina by five men dressed in black and carrying radio handsets. The remaining Serbs were so frightened the UN agency had to evacuate them.

In some places, churches have become sanctuaries and parts of several towns have been turned into Serb ghettos.

Explosions

K-For has reported a string of violent incidents in the past 24 hours, including several explosions and shootings.

Up to 30 people were wounded on Thursday near the eastern town of Vitina, in the US sector, after a package exploded in a street.

In another incident, US troops arrested 13 ethnic Albanians, believed to be members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), after finding a cache of petrol bombs, two grenades and several automatic weapons.

"It was clear they were going to set some houses on fire," a K-For spokesman said.

Kosovo leader snubs UN

The reports of fresh violence came as Kosovo's main moderate party boycotted the first meeting of a UN-mandated council charged with building the province's political future.

The Kosovo Democratic League (LDK), led by Ibrahim Rugova, declined to attend because it was unhappy about the makeup of the council, according to the UN's new Kosovo administrator Bernard Kouchner.


[ image: Mr Rugova's fleeting visit left many baffled]
Mr Rugova's fleeting visit left many baffled
Mr Rugova resents having only two seats on the council when the rival KLA and allied United Democratic League have four seats between them, UN officials said.

The moderate leader, who fled to Italy during the Nato campaign, returned to Kosovo on Thursday to a rapturous welcome from ethnic Albanians in Pristina.

He met Mr Kouchner, but returned to Rome a few hours later. There was no explanation as to why he left.

'Traitor'

Mr Rugova has twice been elected "president" of the Serbian province by its ethnic Albanian majority in votes that were ignored by Belgrade and unrecognised by much of the world.

But he has seen support fall away since Serbian TV showed him meeting President Slobodan Milosevic at the height of the Nato bombing campaign.

Some have accused him of being a traitor, although Mr Rugova says the meetings were under duress.

Serb power struggle

In Serbia, two opposition groups have agreed to join forces to boost their campaign against President Milosevic.

The Alliance for Change and the Union of Democratic Parties say they plan to organise joint demonstrations aimed at securing democratic elections.

In Nis, central Serbia, some 400 angry Yugoslav army reservists blocked the town centre on Friday demanding long-overdue back pay for their service in Kosovo.

The demonstration came ahead of a rally planned for the evening in Kraljevo.





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