Serbs increasing violence in Kosovo Ethnic Albanians flee after their villages are shelled, looted, burned

August 16, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- With the outside world doing little to stop them, heavily armed Serbian policemen backed by Yugoslav army soldiers are stepping up their terror against ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo, driving tens of thousands from their homes and shelling, looting and burning their villages.

In at least one village in southern Kosovo, the police are demolishing brick homes that survived being set afire. In a village nearby, the police told residents that they must surrender any weapons they had or their homes would be burned to the ground, according to villagers and the local Roman Catholic priest.

While the government asserts that it destroys homes only if combat conditions make this inevitable, foreign diplomats say the Serbs obviously hope to clear ethnic Albanian supporters of the armed rebels from vast areas of Kosovo.

Officials of the International Red Cross, which helps oversee the Geneva Conventions protecting civilians in war, said yesterday that they were debating whether the forces of the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, were violating the conventions by displacing villagers and then destroying their homes.

Western governments have threatened to use NATO's might to stop what some foreign diplomats here have called a war against civilians. NATO says it is weighing its response, and this weekend the German defense minister, Volker Ruehe, spoke out strongly in favor of a strike against Yugoslav forces even if the Serbs' traditional Slav Orthodox ally, Russia, objects.

Meanwhile, the government is strengthening its grip on Kosovo, and civilian misery abounds.

Relief agencies estimate that up to 200,000 civilians have fled their homes since the government began a military offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels on July 19. The rebels had seized control of large parts of Kosovo in their bid to make the Serbian-ruled province an independent country.

Many refugees are living in the open. Foreign relief workers report that many of them, especially the elderly and the young, are growing increasingly weak and suffering from disease.

But most reject the government's urgings to return home, either because they fear police or army attacks or because their homes have been destroyed.

Residents of the village of Novo Selo in southern Kosovo say the police have given them until tomorrow to turn over weapons or see their homes destroyed.

The village priest, the Rev. Frane Kola, said that he had told the police there were no hidden weapons and had invited them to search the homes, but that the police had insisted weapons be surrendered.

"If not, they say they will surround the village and burn the buildings," Kola said.

Pervua Marku, the village mechanic, said: "They will do it. Look at all the other places they are destroying."

Pub Date: 8/16/98

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