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Serbs say Kosovo guerrilla leader killed in crackdown

house March 6, 1998
Web posted at: 10:10 p.m. EST (0310 GMT)

In This Story:

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Serb police say they have killed a leader of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army and "destroyed the core" of the guerrilla movement in a two-day crackdown.

KLA leader Adem Jasari was killed during an assault that began Thursday on KLA bastions in the mountains west of Pristina, the capital of Serbia's Kosovo province, where about 90 percent of the population is ethnic Albanian.

At least 20 ethnic Albanians and two Serb policemen were killed in the fighting, according to reports from Serbian sources which could not be independently verified. Albanian sources reported that at least 50 people had been killed in Thursday's fighting alone.

Another 29 people -- 25 ethnic Albanians and four Serb police -- were killed in clashes in the same area last weekend.

Serbia is a republic within Yugoslavia. Kosovo is a province within Serbia, and many Kosovo residents favor autonomy or secession from Serbia.

Local Albanians appeal for Western help

The violence in the Drenica region, which has left the southern part of Serbia perilously close to civil war, has led neighboring Albania to put troops on high alert in its northern regions bordering Yugoslavia.

holbrooke Former U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who brokered the Dayton peace accords for Bosnia, explains the situation in Kosovo.

Local Albanian officials appealed to the West to intervene, saying the Serbs were conducting ethnic cleansing in the province. They said numerous houses were burning and as many as 1,000 villagers had fled before Serb tanks and armored vehicles.

Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, the province's largest Albanian political party, said the Serbs' goal is to "make Albanians flee their country or accept the Serb rule and give up their demands."

Kris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Geneva, called the unrest in Kosovo "a very, very scary scenario."

"We are alarmed because we have seen it all before. We have seen it in Bosnia," Janowski said.

Jasari's village target of attack

Background in Brief
Ninety percent of inhabitants in the Serbian province of Kosovo are ethnic Albanians. In 1989, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic stripped the region of its autonomy. Ethnic Albanian institutions, such as schools and political parties, went underground. Serbians consider Kosovo the cradle of Serbian culture, and the region played a key role in the early days of the war that would eventually disrupt the former Yugoslavia.

Jasari had been sentenced to 20 years in prison by absentia for attacks in Kosovo in which police and civilians were wounded. The fighting was centered in his family village of Prekaz.

Serbian television showed pictures of the Jasari family compound, littered with corpses. Houses and barns had been shelled.

Police said 30 other KLA fighters had surrendered under guarantees of their personal safety.

Unofficial Serb sources told Reuters than ethnic Albanians, armed with machine guns and rocket launchers, put up strong resistance. Ethnic Albanian media quoted witnesses as saying that the Serbs used heavy artillery and helicopter gunships.

Serbian authorities contend the crackdown was justified and deny suggestions the Yugoslav army was involved. They say they are responding to provocations supported by the KLA, which advocates an armed struggle for independence for Kosovo.

Backed by armored personnel carriers, Serb police with bullet-proof vests and rifles ordered reporters back on Friday from the sealed Drenica area, which is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Pristina.

"The anti-terrorist action is in progress, and the area is off-limits," said a police officer manning a roadblock.

Fears that fight could spread to Macedonia

There are fears that war in Kosovo could spread to neighboring Macedonia, which has a large and restive ethnic Albanian minority. And while Albania is reluctant to get involved, there is a danger it might do so if the conflict escalated.

The government of Albania, which has close ties with the 2 million ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, said it put troops on high alert because it had detected an increase in the number of Serbian troops on the Yugoslav side of the border.

A spokesman for Albania's foreign ministry said all leave for soldiers had been canceled but he declined to disclose whether troop levels had been reinforced in border areas.

In Albania's capital of Tirana, thousands of people packed the city's main square on Friday to hear President Rexhep Mejdani denounce Serbia's "brutal violence" against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Leaders of government and opposition parties, normally bitter enemies, stood together on the same platform in Skanderbeg Square in front of a sea of Albanian flags and banners.

Several thousand ethnic Albanians rallied Thursday in Skopje, capital of Macedonia, to protest what they termed Serbian terror against their kin.

Greeks try mediation

Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos arrived Friday in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, to try to mediate in the conflict.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook also visited Belgrade this week and told Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that he must halt the escalating crisis peacefully. But Milosevic refused to budge from his position that the future of Kosovo was an internal matter for Yugoslavia.

Cook said a group of leading European powers would meet Monday to decided "how to bring home to President Milosevic the need for an immediate end to repressive action."

Reuters contributed to this report.


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