The Nando Times - International peacekeepers accused of covering up killings

By GJERAQINA TUHINA

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (November 11, 1999 7:57 p.m. EST) - The leaders of Kosovo's Serb minority on Thursday accused international peacekeepers of covering up their failure to protect non-Albanians by purposely reducing the numbers of Serbs murdered.

The accusation was made in a statement by the Serb National Council, according to the Belgrade-based Beta news agency. It came after NATO released figures Wednesday saying 379 people have been killed in Kosovo since June, including 135 Serbs.

But the Serb council said 357 Serbs have been killed and 450 kidnapped from the time the peacekeepers were deployed in June until Sept. 1. Data for September, October and November are still being collected, it said.

While no recent census figures are available, the ethnic Albanian population was nearly 2 million in Kosovo before many were temporarily pushed out by the Serbs this spring. Most are believed to have returned since international peacekeepers entered the province after the end of NATO bombing.

The Serb population, originally around 200,000, has been fleeing attacks by ethnic Albanians seeking revenge for the earlier Serb crackdown that left 10,000 people dead. The Serb population in Kosovo today is thought to number only in the tens of thousands.

As NATO peacekeepers push to gain a firmer grip on crime, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Henry H. Shelton expressed increasing frustration Thursday with the slow pace of progress in helping Kosovo get back on its feet in the aftermath of the war.

In a brief Veterans' Day visit to U.S. troops stationed in Kosovo, Shelton said the international community should step forward to provide money needed to fund U.N. police and other governmental institutions to prepare the southern Serb province to solidify its peace.

"There is a void between what the military can accomplish and what is needed for a sustainable peace," he said.

Yet even as NATO continues efforts to protect Serbs from revenge-motivated violence, the murder rate in Kosovo is not diminishing.

Senior foreign officials inside the province and abroad have appealed for an end to the targeting of Serbs and Gypsies, or Roma, and the start of the creation of a multiethnic society. In presenting the figures Wednesday, NATO officials said murders had actually slightly increased over the last two weeks.

The Serb statement added that the NATO-led peacekeepers wanted to "justify the failure of the international forces to prevent a massive wave of crime which followed their arrival in Kosovo," by publishing reduced figures of those killed.

The council said Kosovo would soon be a "totally ethnically cleansed Albanian territory ... in the time of peace, and in the presence of more than 40,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo."

The council accused the "Albanian extremists led by the leadership of the now banned Kosovo Liberation Army," of being behind the "organized ethnic cleansing and crime."

Also Thursday, NATO sent 16 members of a multiethnic defense unit to specialized training in France to teach them the finer points of civil defense activities, such as controlling riots and performing mountain rescues.

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