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Monday, July 26, 1999 Published at 05:10 GMT 06:10 UK

World: Europe

Massacre probe delays Serb funerals

K-For says it has bolstered security since Friday's massacre

The funerals of the 14 Serb farmers massacred last week near the village of Gracko in Kosovo have been postponed.

Kosovo: Special Report
The delay is to allow autopsies to be done on all the bodies, according to a spokesman for the Nato-led peacekeeping force, K-For.

The 14 men were ambushed and shot dead as they returned from an evening harvesting hay, in the worst single incident since the arrival of K-For in the province.

Nick Childs in Pristina: "Delay reflects the seriousness with which the international community views this incident"
It has since emerged that the victims had asked Nato for protection, fearing revenge attacks from Kosovo Albanians, but extra security promised was not put in place until the following day.

K-For will deploy 400 troops, backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters, to provide security at the funeral when it does go ahead - perhaps in three or four days.

The ceremony is to be conducted by a bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who will also receive a K-For escort.

[ image: Few people in the tiny village have not been affected by the massacre]
Few people in the tiny village have not been affected by the massacre
The Gracko massacre was the most serious incident since K-For moved into Kosovo and Yugoslav forces pulled out.

But accurate casualty figures among the province's Serb population are hard to assess.

The Yugoslav news agency, Tanjug, says 45 Serbs have been killed and 18 wounded in sectarian attacks in recent weeks.

Clarence Mitchell reports: "The British soldiers who were due to help them instead found their bodies"
The agency also says there have been more than 600 cases of "attempted murder" and 162 "kidnappings".

But other sources suggest that between 60 and 80 ethnic Serbs have been killed in Pristina alone.

Tens of thousands more have fled their villages after having their homes burned down - or just in fear of reprisal attacks.

Double standards

On Sunday, the Yugoslav mission at the UN called for an urgent meeting of the Security Council to discuss the violence against Serbs in Kosovo.

[ image:  ]
The letter from the Yugoslav ambassador also insisted that Yugoslav troops be allowed to re-enter the province to protect Serbs, the state-run Tanjug news agency reported.

The agency accused the West of operating double standards, comparing its reaction to earlier violence against Kosovo Albanians. "The international outrage is subdued when Serbs are the victims" the agency said.

Trust damaged

Earlier, the UN and Nato announced new measures to improve security in the province, but correspondents say the killings have set back efforts by international peacekeepers to build trust between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians.

General Sir Mike Jackson: "We are making substantial progress"
A meeting of the province's inter-ethnic council scheduled for Monday was postponed after Serb representatives said they would be attending the funerals - which have now themselves been postponed.

Although no new date has so far been set, the UN special representative in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, said the killings would not undermine efforts to rebuild peace and security in the province.

"The murderers sought to stop us. We must not permit that," he said. "Our mission must go on."

Thorough investigation

The commander of the Nato-led peacekeeping force (K-For), General Sir Michael Jackson, announced new troop deployments and check-points to try to stamp out lawlessness.

He said K-For was conducting a thorough investigation of the killings but warned that the people of Kosovo had to work to release the province from a "cycle of hostility".

[ image: Bodies of 46 Albanians killed by Serb forces re-buried at Makovac]
Bodies of 46 Albanians killed by Serb forces re-buried at Makovac
"While the desire for revenge is just about understandable, it cannot be tolerated under any circumstances," Gen Jackson said.

Investigators from the international war crimes tribunal are also working on the case.

Both Gen Jackson and Mr Kouchner hinted that the attack might have been more than a simple act of revenge.

The Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, has said that K-For and the UN mission in Kosovo are "fully and exclusively responsible" for the massacre.

He demanded that the UN enable the urgent return of Yugoslav army and police troops in accordance with the military-technical accord between Nato and the Yugoslav army.

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