Peacekeepers seal off Serb village in Kosovo to prevent attacks

GRACANICA, Yugoslavia, Feb 28, 2000 -- (Reuters) International peacekeepers sealed off this Serbian village in Kosovo Sunday as around 150 Serbs gathered to protest the killing of a Serbian police officer across the internal boundary with Serbia, officials said.

Swedish troops with the peacekeeping force KFOR blocked roads into the village, which a KFOR officer said was home to the parents of the slain policeman, 27-year-old Slavisa Dimitrijevic.

KFOR feared the crowd, which demonstrated peacefully, could attack ethnic Albanian traffic passing through the village, after reports that the Serbian officer was killed by ethnic Albanians.

Serbia's state-run Tanjug news agency reported in Belgrade that Dimitrijevic and one Kosovo Albanian were killed, and three policemen wounded, in an armed attack on the police patrol in Serbia near the border with Kosovo.

A group of "Albanian terrorists coming from Kosovo" late Saturday opened fire and threw hand grenades from an ambush at the patrol near the village of Konculj, close to the town of Bujanovac, the agency said, quoting police.

One Serbian police officer in the U.N.-supervised Kosovo Police Service told AFP the murdered policeman will be buried in the southern Serbian town of Nis on Monday and that KFOR would provide an escort for around 100 Gracanica Serbs, including the victim's parents, to the internal boundary to attend the funeral.

He added that the residents of Gracinica were "very angry" at the killing, which followed four other murders of Serbs, also allegedly by ethnic Albanians, in the last week.

Monday last week a 47-year-old Serb from the nearby village of Susica was decapitated with an axe and two Serbian men were shot dead while chopping wood near Gusterica to the south of Gracanica, said the policeman, who asked not be identified.

Tanjug quoted local Serbian leaders as saying that a doctor who worked in a makeshift surgery set up in a church in Gnjilane, eastern Kosovo, was shot dead in unclear circumstances late Saturday.

Local authorities in Bujanovac have also blamed ethnic Albanians for an explosive device that went off in the town's heating plant Friday, causing more than 36 metric tons of heating oil to pour into the streets.

The mayor of Presevo, a village dominated by ethnic Albanians which lies near Bujanovac and which is also in Serbia proper near the internal border with Kosovo, affirmed to AFP recently that Kosovar Albanians were making incursions into the region.

But the mayor, Riza Halimi, said an increased number of Serbian special police armed with automatic guns had also been observed in the region since last December, creating "increased tension in the area."

Last month, witnesses said 10 men in KLA uniforms were present at the funeral of two ethnic Albanian brothers killed in an attack which relatives blamed on Serbian police.

Yugoslav troops and Serbian special police in Serbia proper and NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo are banned from a five-kilometer (three-mile) demilitarized zone along the boundary between Serbia and Kosovo. The zone remains open to local Serbian police under an accord between NATO and Yugoslav officials.

Since last June, some 25,000 ethnic Albanians have fled the region of Medvedja, Bujanovac and Presevo to avoid Serbian reprisals, the Belgrade branch of the Helsinki Human Rights Committee said in its 1999 report.

Original article