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Saturday, July 24, 1999 Published at 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK

World: Europe

Serb farmers gunned down

Serb family members leave Pristina morgue after identifying bodies

Fourteen Serb farmers have been shot dead in a field in Kosovo.

Kosovo: Special Report
It is the worst attack on Kosovo Serbs since Nato-led K-For peacekeepers entered the province six weeks ago.

Serb villagers blamed the Kosovo Liberation Army for the killings, which happened near Gracko - outside the southern town of Lipljan.

But the leader of the KLA, Hashim Thaci, condemned the attack and said the KLA would do its best to help track down the killers.

Alan Grady reports: "There's little doubt here that the killings were an act of revenge"
In an interview with the BBC, he said the killings were a crazy act, designed to wreck the improving relations between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs.

The United Nations administrator in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, said he was "horrified" by the massacre.

He said that there would be "urgent and relentless investigations to bring the perpetrators to justice without delay".

He appealed to Serb and ethnic Albanian leaders for calm.

Gunfire alerts troops

The BBC's Nick Childs: "Nato has condemned the shootings as a despicable act"
The alarm was raised at about 9.13pm local time, when British troops heard gunfire and called in a quick reaction force.

The bodies of 13 males were discovered next to a combine harvester on a dirt track by an open field. A 14th body was found on a tractor 150m away.

The Serbs had apparently been grouped together in a circle and shot dead, K-For spokesman Major Jan Joosten said.

Canadian troops have now sealed off the site and the bodies have been taken to a hospital in Pristina to be identified.

Nato said the village was home to about 80 Serb and two Albanian families, who had lived together peacefully.

Arms handover

The mass killing came as K-For continued its campaign to try to reduce the number of firearms in Kosovo.

On Saturday, commanders from the Nato-led peacekeeping force and the KLA met to assess whether the KLA had met its latest disarmament deadline.

K-For commander General Mike Jackson said he was broadly satisfied that the KLA had achieved last Wednesday's decommissioning target.

The KLA was to have handed in all heavy weapons and a third of its small arms by then.

General Jackson said inspections of weapons storage sites by peacekeeping troops indicated that this was the case.

He said there were still some small discrepancies in numbers, but these were "an accounting problem" rather than a failure to hand over weapons.

A meeting scheduled for Thursday was postponed at the request of the KLA apparently because of differences between the figures calculated by the two sides.

The KLA is required to disarm completely by 19 September. Thousands of weapons have already been handed in.

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