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December 14, 1998

Dozens reported killed in Kosovo border clash (AP)

December 14, 1998 Web posted at: 12:24 PM EST (1724 GMT)

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) -- Yugoslav army troops killed at least 30 armed ethnic Albanians and wounded 12 others in border clashes Monday in Kosovo, the Serb-run Media Center reported.

The Albanians' Kosovo Information Center also reported casualties from the early morning clash but did not immediately say how many were killed or injured. It said heavy detonations were heard from three villages that had been sealed off by police.

The report of 30 deaths in the five-hour clash was the greatest single number of casualties since an Oct. 12 peace agreement brokered by U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke halted fighting in the separatist province in southern Serbia.

Ethnic Albanian rebels, who have been fighting for Kosovo's independence, have frequently armed themselves in neighboring Albania.

The clashes came as a U.S. envoy for Kosovo renewed talks today with the province's ethnic Albanian negotiators.

Christopher Hill, whose proposals for a political settlement for Kosovo have been rejected by both sides, met with negotiators in the provincial capital of Pristina today. Hill planned to travel to Belgrade on Tuesday for other talks with Serbian government authorities.

Efforts to forge a political settlement that would bring a lasting peace to the province in Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia, are stalled.

Additionally, many fear full-scale fighting will resume in the next few weeks or months unless there is a breakthrough in negotiations.

Ethnic Albanians insist on a political plan that would enable them to break free of Serbian rule, while Serbia refuses to give up the predominantly ethnic Albanian province.

The Serb Media Center report said a group of armed Albanians was trying to enter Kosovo illegally from Albania when the shootout erupted at 2 a.m. today near Gorozup and Liken, 45 miles southwest of Pristina.

Yugoslav army guards confiscated arms and other material that the Albanians were trying to smuggle in, according to the Serb Media Center report, which could not be independently confirmed.

Municipal authorities in nearby Prizren were quoted as saying that all those killed and wounded were wearing camouflage uniforms with the insignia of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army. Eight Albanians were killed in a border clash near the same area on Dec. 3.

Hundreds of people have been killed and an estimated 300,000 were left homeless after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic launched a crackdown against separatist rebels in February.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Kosovo's Serbs arrived in Pristina today to plead with international peace monitors to find their relatives who disappeared five months ago.

About 50 Serbs met with Gabriel Keller, deputy head of the 2,000-strong peace mission led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Keller received a list of the missing people whom the Serbs believe were kidnapped by the KLA rebels, and promised that the OSCE would "try its best to find traces of the missing."

In another development, the second-ranking diplomat at the French embassy in Belgrade and two other embassy employees were killed today in a car accident in Kosovo.

French officials said Gerard Fauveau, the embassy's first counselor, was among those killed when his car collided with a passenger bus in Besinje, six miles north of Pristina.

U.S. Hardens Stance on Yugoslav Leader (NYT)


WASHINGTON -- The United States, trying to plot an eventual endgame to its military involvement in the countries that once were part of Communist Yugoslavia, is moving to undermine President Slobodan Milosevic's tight control over Yugoslavia, senior U.S. officials say.

U.S. officials have toughened their tone against Milosevic in recent days and are openly supporting the democratic government in Montenegro, a part of Yugoslavia that Milosevic has hinted he might move against.

Milosevic's political grip has weakened because of his mishandling of the rebellion in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo, U.S. officials say. But they flatly deny reports of some covert or even overt new plan to oust Milosevic, saying that his fate is up to the Serbian people. And he remains an important actor in Western efforts to keep the peace in Bosnia and Kosovo, they say.

The officials were speaking after a series of high-level meetings of the administration's national security team, with the special envoy Richard Holbrooke taking part by a secure video link.

While they argue that the essence of U.S. policy -- support for the democratization of the region -- has not changed, they concede that the U.S. tone about Milosevic has hardened. "There is a generalized feeling now throughout the administration that Milosevic is the problem in the Balkans, and less vital for the solutions," a senior U.S. official said.

In Brussels last Tuesday, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called on the NATO alliance to find "an appropriate way to support the democratic aspirations of the Serb people," who "have been silenced and shackled far too long." Her spokesman, James Rubin, said last week: "Milosevic has been at the center of every crisis in the former Yugoslavia over the last decade. He is not simply part of the problem -- Milosevic is the problem."

But while urging democracy in Yugoslavia, the officials have not called for Milosevic's removal and are wary of a further breakup of the country, which is now made up of the dominant Serbia and Montenegro. "We're not supporting the secession of Montenegro, which the Montenegrins themselves don't advocate," an official said. "That could produce another unraveling in Europe, starting with the Bosnian Serb republic."

Despite Milosevic's weaker position now, he withstood huge rallies of 200,000 people calling for his ouster two years ago, and today the democratic opposition is splintered badly, making its repression easier. The officials are concerned that Milosevic could be replaced by someone worse, like the fanatical Serbian nationalist Vojislav Seselj.

In September a slightly moderate Serb nationalist, Biljana Plavsic, whom Washington supported, was defeated by a harder-line Serb, Nikola Poplasen, in the Bosnian Serb republic.

Washington has decided to do its best to protect Montenegro and to revive support for a democratic opposition in Serbia itself, even as Milosevic has moved to crush it.

Last week, for instance, the State Department welcomed a number of Serbian democrats and news media figures who have been attacked by Milosevic, including Slavko Curuvija, publisher of the newspaper Dnevni Telegraf, which Milosevic shut down on Oct. 13 but which has been revived and publishes from Montenegro. They also testified at a hearing in the House before the Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Milosevic has used the new U.S. oratory "to circle the wagons," a European diplomat noted, drawing closer to old cronies and cracking down harder on the independent news media, much of which has withdrawn to Montenegro.

The administration hopes to roll out an explicit program at the beginning of the year, the officials said, which will include aid to independent news organizations, academic institutions and civic organizations, many of which Milosevic has been trying to repress in Serbia. Washington will also direct further support to Montenegro, whose president, Milo Djukanovic, has been diverging from Belgrade and Milosevic and providing safe haven for a number of the news organizations and academic institutions that were shut down.

"There has been real progress toward democracy and economic freedom in Montenegro, and we want to support them any way we can," a senior U.S. official said. "It's also a way to show the Serbs in Belgrade, who are watching, that we are not anti-Serb per se, which is what Milosevic always cries."

The United States is currently spending about $15 million a year, including $2 million for independent television, to promote democracy in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which includes Kosovo. There, Washington hopes to help independent news organizations in preparation for hoped-for elections for a local parliament.

Also early in 1999, the administration will make public posters and publicity for a new "bounty" of $5 million a head for the capture of accused war criminals in the region, including Kosovo -- money pushed on the executive branch by Congress, in particular by Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., who is chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

Among the targets of such a bounty are the former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, and his military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic. Both men have been indicted by an international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia but have not been arrested by NATO-led forces in Bosnia. The two men are believed to be living now in Serbia, officials said.

But the details for such a bounty program are still being worked out, especially with the Justice Department, officials say. It will be run out of the office of Robert Gelbard, who is in charge of carrying out the Dayton accords, and the secretary of state will determine who qualifies for any reward.

The administration continues to press negotiations to find a political solution to the conflict in Kosovo, between the ruling Serbs and the ethnic Albanians who make up about 90 percent of the province's population.

But Holbrooke and the chief U.S, negotiator, Christopher Hill, have had difficulty getting a coherent political response from the badly divided ethnic Albanians. The essence of the problem is that the United States and the West want a solution -- enhanced autonomy for Kosovo within Serbia -- that is favored by neither the Serbs nor the population of Kosovo.

Increasingly, urged on by the Kosovo Liberation Army, the ethnic Albanian residents of the province want independence, while the Serbs are reluctant to grant any real autonomy, let alone an enhanced autonomy beyond the status Milosevic removed from Kosovo in 1989.

Hill, who is currently circulating his fourth draft agreement among the various parties, has been criticized by both sides. U.S. officials say they do not expect quick success, but are still pushing to find a political settlement before the spring, when the Balkan thaw could produce new fighting in Kosovo.


Holbrooke Says May Visit Belgrade For Kosovo Peace?

By Elif Unal

ISTANBUL - U.S. Balkans envoy Richard Holbrooke said Sunday he was considering a trip to Belgrade in the near future to inject life into what he said was a fragile peace process in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo.

"There is a possibility that I may make a trip to Belgrade as part of this trip to the region ... we are thinking about it," Holbrooke told Reuters TV on the sidelines of a meeting between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot businessmen in Istanbul.

Holbrooke, backed by a threat of NATO airstrikes, in October persuaded Serbian leaders in Belgrade to withdraw much of their forces from Kosovo and to pledge to negotiate a settlement.

The deal brought a fragile cease-fire to halt eight months of fighting between Yugoslav security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas in which 1,500 people died. The ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo want independence after decades of harsh direct rule from Belgrade.

But the envoy said neither side was fully observing the agreement and called for political progress to shore up the peace.

Concern Over Failure In Compliance

"We are concerned that there has been some failure in compliance on both sides. We want to revitalize and re-emphasize the process," he said. "We are all mindful of the fact that...we need to make progress on the political front in order to move forward."

Holbrooke said U.S. Kosovo mediator Christopher Hill would continue shuttle diplomacy between the two sides.

"Ambassador Hill is continuing his marathon efforts to mediate between Albanians and Yugoslav authorities. It is extremely difficult, both side are dug in on very tough positions," he said.

Both sides have condemned Hill's latest draft autonomy plan for the Serbian province and Holbrooke said hopes for face-to-face talks between Serbs and ethnic Albanians were low.

"I am not positive that the direct talks are the best way to pursue, perhaps indirect talks. Ambassador Hill and I will discuss that further," he said.

NATO has sent a 1,500-strong force to neighboring Macedonia in case fighting breaks out and it needs to withdraw 2,000 unarmed 'verifiers' whose job is to track compliance with the cease-fire.

Belgrade says the force would be treated as hostile if it crosses the border.


KOSOVA (trials - Dešan)

Six months imprisonment for "association for hostile activities"

Dešan, 13 December (ARTA) 1830CET --

The Serb installed Court in Pejš sentenced the young Shaban Ahmetaj, from the Dešan municipal village of Isniq, with six months imprisonment. He was accused of "association for hostile activities".

Ahmetaj was kept under custody in the prison in PejŰ since the beginning of July. As the local people from Isniq claim, he was not engaged in any activities during the fighting.

On the contrary, he was working as a shop clerk until the day when the Serb police in Pejš arrested him.

KOSOVA (trials - Kašanik)

The trial against 15 Albanians accused for "terrorism" begins

Kašanik, 13 December (ARTA) 1730CET --

The defense attorneys, Avni Ibrahimi, and Rexhep Haxhimusa, from Ferizaj stated that the trial against 15 Albanians, accused of terrorism, will start on Monday (14 December) at 0900CET in the District Court of Prishtina. The indicted are charged for "association for hostile activities" and "terrorism", according the article 136 in conjunction with article 125 of the Yugoslav Criminal Code.

The indicted are Danush Kurtaj (1961), Hasan Dalleshi (1957), Fatmir Kurtaj (1962), Avdylgafurr Luma (1961), Mejdi Dalloshi (1944), Tefik Raka (1939), arrested on 10 August, and Xhevat Azizi (1954), arrested on 20 July, while Berat Luzha (1953), Hajrush Kurtaj (1966), Qamil Ilazi (1948), Naser Kuka (1961), Reshat Salihaj (1971), Bexhet Imishti (1958), Remzi Elezi (1962) and Naim Beka (1969) will be tried in absence.

Thirteen of the indicted are from Kašanik and the surrounding villages, two of them are from the Ferizaj municipal village of Pleshtinš, and from Viti.

The accusation states that, "the indicted have held secret meetings where they prepared and planned terrorist operations, weapon trafficking, transporting of the ammunition, military and sanitary equipment, etc.".

KOSOVA (detention abrogated - Gjilan)

The detention of six Albanians accused for "terrorism" abrogated

Gjilan, 12 December (ARTA) 1730CET --

With the proposition of the Prosecutor of the District Court, Momcilo Antic, and the decision of the investigation judge, Zivorad Stankovic, the detention of six Albanians: Ismail Avdyli (1964), Halil Haliti (1968), Kemajl Aliu (1967), Sali Shahini (1973) Fejzullah Aliu (1969) and Jonuz Aliu (1958), arrested on 11 and 12 of November, was abrogated on 11 December.

The above-mentioned Albanians, accused of "association for hostile activities" and "terrorism", are from the Gjilan municipal village of Dobšršan, states their defense attorneys, Osman Arifi and Shemsedin Pira.

Meanwhile the investigations against fugitives Nebi Huruglica, Sinan Avdyli, Ibish Ibishi, Xhafer Kryeziu, Naser Arifi, Enver Tahiri, and Naser Tahiri, were postponed until their arrestment.

KOSOVA (shootouts - MalishevŰ)

Intensive gunfire from three Serb police checkpoints in MalishevŰ

MalishevŰ, 13 December (ARTA) 1800CET--

Unlike the everyday sporadic shooting, intensive gunfire was heard in the territory of Malishevš on Saturday afternoon, informs the "KD" correspondent from MalishevŰ.

Shooting from heavy machine-guns and other lighter weapons, was heard near the village of CarrallukŰ, in KijevŰ, and coming from the building of the private enterprise "Mirusha", at 1500CET.

Similar shooting was also reported from Pishat e LlazicŰs at 1600CET.

The reasons for the shooting are unclear as there is still no information on eventual damage, reported the "KD" correspondent.

KOSOVA (IDP issues - Obiliq)

IDPs to celebrate the New Year in their houses

Obiliq, 13 December (ARTA) 1600CET --

If the OSCE verifiers keep the promises they made to the residents of Obiliq and FushŰ-Kosova municipalities, then, tens of thousands of local residents will be able to celebrate New Year-s in their own houses.

The villagers state that the OSCE verifiers promised them that the Serb police will withdraw from this region by 17 December. However, the prevailing situation in the field proves the opposite. Field sources report on reinforcements of the Serb police positions in the villages of Siboc, LajthishtŰ, ShipitullŰ, Graboc i UlŰt and Graboc i EpŰr.

"During the past two nights, continuous gunfire was heard from all positions of the Serb police. Consequently we were compelled to flee our homes", claims Hida from the village of Siboc, who had just entered her home to take some food and clothing.

Sources close to the KLA, which is currently observing the field, also report on provocative movements of Serb forces.

"They have not withdrawn from any positions, they provoke continuously and reinforce their positions everyday", they claim.

This region is still uninhabited due to the prevailing circumstances.

In the meantime, the CDHRF branch in Obiliq also informs on provocative movements and behaviors of the Serb paramilitary units. There were also reports that these forces mistreated local youngsters.

GERMANY (Kosovars in exile)

Albanians will spend the winter holidays in exile...

13 December (ARTA) 1630CET --

Bajram A. comes from the Dukagjin plain in Kosova. He has spent the last 30 years of his life working in Germany. He has devoted his life to his family and welfare in Kosova.

His family is currently running from one shelter to another. He does not even know what is left of his property and the assets he earned through his work abroad.

Now, when the vacations are getting nearer, he cannot return to Kosova. The reasons are very simple: the fear and experiences with the Serb border officials. They (the police) would make problems for anybody who works in Germany and comes from a region like Drenica, Dukagjin, Rahovec, Klinš etc.

It used to be like this in the past as well, but such conduct has become more pivotal, as accuses for "helping terrorists" could result with imprisonment.

In fact, the fate of Bajram A. is similar with the fates of around 500,000 Albanians living in Germany and Switzerland, as well as other Western countries. The war, destruction, losing of the beloved and the permanent threats while crossing the border now prevent them from spend winter holidays together with their families. Therefore, the classical way to greet, through phone or greeting cards, which will most probably not be delivered to any villages in Drenica or Dukagjin, remain the only possible way to wish a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

All this is just because Albanians who travel by bus or private cars have to drive through Serb-controlled areas. The same goes if they travel by plane, which land in Belgrade or Skopje, because they have to undergo strict police check-ups in such cases as well.

Another possibility is to fly from Germany to Zurich and then take a direct flight to the Prishtina airport. It sees that such an option suits Bajram A. best because "it is better to be stopped in Kosova then somewhere in Serbia or Macedonia", he claims, still considering whether to spend his winter holidays in Kosova...

KOSOVA (British delegation - Prishtina)

"I am here on a fact-gathering mission"

Prishtina, 13 December (ARTA) 1700CET-

The British liberal leader, Paddy Ashdown, declared on Sunday in Prishtina, that he came to Kosova on a fact-gathering mission.

"I am here on a mission to collect facts, to see what the situation is and of course, recommend my Government", said Ashdown after meeting with the chief Kosova Albanian negotiator, Fehmi Agani.

This is the second visit that the leader of the English Liberal Democratic Party made to Kosova, and according to him, it was taking place "in somewhat better conditions".

Ashdown was accompanied by the spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs of the House of Lords, Ms. Williams, as well as the British Ambassador to Belgrade,

Bryan Donelly, when he met with the negotiators, KLA general political representative, Demaši, LBD chair, Qosja, and liberal leader, Dedaj.

Ashdown said he would visit other parts of Kosova on Monday. There are claims that he might visit Malishevš, as well.

On the other hand, member of the Albanian negotiating team, Edita Tahiri, claimed that during the meeting, the "Albanian side gave its opinions on the new draft, reiterating that it is unacceptable".

"It is unacceptable because of the approach and concept that the draft has", she asserted.

Asked whether they discussed the idea of organizing an international conference on Kosova during the meeting, Tahiri said, "there were no discussions on that behalf, although the Albanian side welcomes the initiative for such a conference".