Double slaying sparks fears on Kosovo-Serbia boundary

PRISTINA, Serbia, Jan 30, 2000 -- (AFP) The killing of two ethnic Albanian brothers on Serbia's boundary with Kosovo is the latest attack by Serbian police on Albanians cut off from protection by international peacekeepers, according to relatives of the victims.

Ferat Ariti arrived in Pristina Saturday to collect the bodies of Isa Saqipi, 35, and his brother Shaip, 31, who between them had nine children. They were cousins of Ariti's wife.

Ariti said the men were murdered Wednesday by some 30 Serbian police while chopping wood near their village of Dobrosin, 300 metres (yards) from the internal boundary with Kosovo.

"They were returning on their tractor with a trailer of firewood. Their father was on a nearby path when he heard shots. He went to investigate and saw the Serb police, but no tractor," Ariti said.

The father, Saqip, went home but when his only sons failed to return he began searching for them. He eventually found them further along the road, both shot in the head and propped against their trailer, Ariti said.

He added that a 12-year-old child in a nearby house witnessed the killings.

Dobrosin lies in a five-kilometer (three mile) demilitarized zone on the boundary, banned to Yugoslav troops and special police as well as to peacekeepers -- but still open to local police under an accord between NATO and Belgrade.

The family brought the bodies on Thursday to Pristina, the capital of the UN-administered province of Kosovo, for an autopsy by international police.

"If we had taken the bodies to any of the local towns they would have killed us too," said Arifi, an administrator in the village of Bilinic on the Kosovo side of the boundary.

UN police in Kosovo said the two men were shot dead but are still investigating the case.

Ariti planned to return the bodies to Dobrosin for burial on Sunday, but said he feared the police would be out in force for the ceremony.

He said that 80 percent of Dobrosin's residents had fled since Serbian police first maltreated the villagers three months ago.

Intimidation included a checkpoint where Serb police force strip searches on ethnic Albanians -- the majority in the region -- and told men to bring their daughters along to have sex with policemen, Ariti said.

Paula Ghedini of the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Pristina said her group had received reports of "direct intimidation" in the region.

"The atmosphere there is similar to Kosovo a year ago. The fear and tension is quite high but we are not seeing the same number of incidents" as in Kosovo, she said.

"Even though they are not an ethnic minority in the region the Albanians feel like one, the (Serb security) presence is so strong," she said.

The UNHCR has registered 5,000 people who have fled the region since June, known to Kosovars as 'East Kosovo' and with up to 100,000 ethnic Albanian residents, but said the number is probably much higher.

She said often only the men stay behind to look after the homes and animals. Ariti said the only people who stayed behind were those fit enough to run when the police show. He said 30,000 people had fled the region.

"The situation is getting worse day by day. In spring it could be a disaster like Kosovo," he warned.

Ariti said that before NATO's three-month air campaign to end Serbian oppression in Kosovo last March, the police in the area had been "professional and respected." Since then, they had been replaced by new forces, including special units that had been active in Kosovo, he said.

A resident of Presevo, one of the area's main towns, said that in the last two weeks 200 well-armed special police had arrived and were patrolling aggressively by night in groups of 50.

The new units had beaten up at least three Presevo Albanians and locals were scared to go out night in the town, which 95 percent ethnic Albanian, the man said, speaking by telephone on condition of anonymity.

"We never wanted war, we have tried to solve our differences through dialogue," said Ariti. "But the Serbs are forcing us into it. If it comes to war, we'll fight."