Yugoslav Tinderbox Kosovo Erupts in Violence
- By Dusan Stojanovic
- Mar. 03 1998 00:00
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- Serbian riot police used water cannons, tear gas and batons Monday to break up a protest by tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians, as raging unrest in the restive Kosovo province threatened to spin out of control.
Clubbing the demonstrators as they fled into side streets, hundreds of policemen waded into a crowd of some 30,000 ethnic Albanians protesting the killing of their compatriots in ethnic clashes over the weekend that claimed at least 20 lives.
Three days of violence in Serbia's southern province, which borders Albania and unstable Macedonia, have alarmed the international community and heightened fears of a wider conflict in the Balkans.
In Brussels, the European Union called for increased international pressure to push Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic into negotiating a peaceful solution of the Kosovo crisis.
"If this problem expands into a military conflict, it will not remain within the boundaries of Kosovo,'' warned Tito Petkovski, head of parliament in neighboring Macedonia, which has its own restive ethnic Albanian minority.
In nearby Tirana, Albania, about 2,000 people rallied in protest of the police crackdown.
The leader of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, condemned police intervention and called the demonstrations "dignified and successful,'' the Beta news agency reported.
Rugova again appealed for increased international action to create conditions for dialogue and an end to Serbian repression in Kosovo. He declared Tuesday a day of mourning.
Kosovo Albanians, who make up more than 90 percent of the province's 2 million people, have been pushing for independence from Serbia -- the dominant republic in what remains of Yugoslavia.
The province has been simmering with violence for a decade, ever since Serbia introduced a heavy military presence and martial law. But the weekend clashes, followed by Monday's demonstrations, mark the worst unrest in months. Many fear the episodes could lead the province into a war similar to those in Bosnia and Croatia.
Such a war could spill over into Macedonia and Albania and risk involving other countries in the region, such as Greece and Bulgaria. It would certainly jeopardize a U.S.-sponsored peace in Bosnia, where U.S. troops are deployed as part of a NATO-led peacekeeping force. Some U.S. troops are also stationed in Macedonia.
Ethnic Albanian sources in Kosovo reported that 41 demonstrators were injured Monday in clashes with police. The protests were called by ethnic Albanian parties as a response to the weekend violence in which 16 ethnic Albanians and four Serbian policemen were killed.
The protesters hurled stones and bottles at police. Some demonstrators were left bleeding on the ground as local Serbs waved to police from their windows, congratulating them on the swift action.
Beta reported police breaking into the offices of the Albanian daily "Koha Ditore'' during the demonstrations. The Belgrade news agency also reported that Ibrahim Osmani, a reporter who works for several foreign media organizations, was beaten by police as he tried to hide in a doorway.
In a statement carried by the official Tanjug news agency, the police warned that "no demonstrations or similar acts supporting terrorism will be allowed.''
Tanjug reported that ethnic Albanians carried out 10 attacks in the region west of Pristina, including one in the village of Decani in which three people were injured by automatic weapons fire. It gave no further details.
The latest trouble was apparently sparked Saturday when Albanians ambushed a Serbian police patrol near the village of Likosane in the Glogovac district. The patrol was on its way to investigate a separate incident, in which a Serb refugee center came under fire on Friday.
Four Serbian policemen were killed in the ambush, Serbia's Interior Ministry said.
Serbian police said the weekend clashes were prompted by an ethnic Albanian terrorist group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army. Ethnic Albanians claimed the police attacked unarmed civilians.
Police said five people were arrested, while Serbian state television showed large quantities of confiscated weapons and ammunition.
The independent Belgrade radio station, B-92, quoted unofficial Albanian sources as saying that up to 30 people were killed -- including a family of four who were among seven people shot dead in a village near Srbica on Sunday.
Yugoslavia's parliament, dominated by Milosevic's Socialist Party, opened its session Monday with a minute of silence for the dead policemen. But it rejected an opposition demand to discuss the situation in Kosovo, saying it was Serbia's internal problem.
Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic said the situation in Kosovo was "under control,'' and some of the top Serbian politicians praised the police actions in Kosovo. Warning that outside interference would only worsen the situation, Milosevic on Sunday said the problems in Kosovo could only be solved domestically.
Senior diplomats from the 15 EU nations were scheduled to meet Tuesday in Brussels to discuss possible measures against Yugoslavia. On Sunday, the United States expressed concern over the increase in violence but stopped short of an outright condemnation of Milosevic.