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Thursday, April 23, 1998 Published at 19:50 GMT 20:50 UK

Serb 'no' to foreign mediation in Kosovo

Turnout of the referendum was about 73%

Voters in Serbia have massively rejected accepting international mediation to help resolve the conflict in the mainly Albanian province of Kosovo.

The electoral commission said that nearly 95% of those who took part in Thursday's referendum opposed letting Western-led organizations, like the six-nation Contact Group, intercede in the province.

The commission says the turnout among the 7.2 million registered voters had been about 73%.

The referendum was boycotted by Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up 90% of the two million strong population of the southern province.

[ image: Milosevic:
Milosevic: "This is for Serbia to decide about Serbia"
The ruling parties in Serbia ran a campaign in the state media, using nationalistic slogans to urge people to vote "no" to foreign intervention.

After casting his vote, President Milosevic said: "This referendum is for Serbia to decide about Serbia."

The BBC correspondent in Belgrade says many Serbs regard the international community with deep suspicion. They fear Kosovo will split from Serbia if they allow outsiders to get involved, despite reassurances from Western officials that they are not in favour of an independent Kosovo.

Aleksej Zoric of the BBC Serbian Service: "The referendum will give Mr Milosevic a stronger hand." (1'58")
Western governments have urged Serbia to consider greater automony for Kosovo.

The Kosovo Albanians are refusing to participate in any negotiations until foreign mediators are present.

Yugoslav army killed 16 Albanians

Meanwhile, the Yugoslav army has confirmed reports that its troops killed 16 people in Kosovo, in the latest outbreak of violence in the mainly Albanian province. Earlier reports put the number at more than 20.

The army said the 16 were killed on Thursday as they tried to enter Kosovo from Albania. It described them as armed infiltrators who had been undergoing training in military camps in Albania.

Yugoslavia has frequently accused Albania of supporting armed groups into Kosovo.

[ image:  ]
A military statement said that in the largest incursion, around 200 armed men were scattered in a firefight near the border village of Kosare.

However, Albanian sources gave a different account. The Albanian news agency, ATA, said Serbian security forces attacked a number of mainly-ethnic Albanian villages with artillery fire causing the population to flee.

The agency quoted a spokesperson from the Democratic League of Kosovo, saying most of the population of more than 50,000 people in the region of Decani had fled.

The reports follow indications of a build-up of Yugoslav forces near the Albanian border.

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