Mine kills two Serbs
LEPINE, Jun 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) A landmine awareness demonstration in the Kosovo capital Pristina was cancelled on Thursday after a mine blast a few kilometers away killed two Serbs and critically injured a third.
United Nations envoy Bernard Kouchner, Kosovo's effective governor, had planned to address the demonstration, set up for the international media.
Instead, he drove under tight security to the site of the mine attack, a railway crossing near the village of Lepine, 22 km (14 miles) southwest of Pristina, and vented his anger on the "cowards" who had laid the mine in what was considered a deliberate attack aimed at Serbs.
"It was an outrage - so easy to organize - and I am so ashamed that people do that in the night - that some people here are criminals, murderers," he said after inspecting the wreckage of the Serbs' vehicle, twisted into fantastic shapes, while around him Finnish peacekeepers swept the area for more possible mines.
Kouchner was flanked by Kosovo's moderate ethnic Albanian leaders Ibrahim Rugova and Hashim Thaci - the first time they had shown solidarity with the peace process by visiting the site of an attack on Serbs rather than their own people.
Both condemned the latest incident, coming just over a year after the multinational peacekeeping force took over Kosovo from the retreating Serbs.
"This act will make an already unstable situation more difficult," said Thaci, calling on the peacekeepers to redouble their efforts.
The state news agency Tanjug identified the two Serbs killed in the mine blast as Zlatko Denic, born in 1963, and Borko Filipovic, born in 1975. The wounded Serb was identified as Dejan Filipovic, whose age was not given.
The blast blew away the front of their van and left a crater a meter across and a meter deep. Crates of beer from the van's load were scattered about. Its windscreen lay shattered 20 meters away.
Reports from the hospital in nearby Kosovo Polje, now run by a Russian contingent, said Dejan Filipovic had lost one leg and was likely to lose the other.
"It was an antitank mine of 4 kilograms (8 lb.) of explosive or more," said General Juan Ortuno, commanding officer of the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, who accompanied Kouchner.
"It is impossible to protect against such attacks - one or two people could have laid it in an hour or so last night. It was a professional job, but in Kosovo, so many people have military experience."
Kosovo's minorities Serbs have been the targets of frequent attacks by vengeful ethnic Albanians, angry at years of Serb repression, since NATO-led peacekeepers took de facto control last June.
More than 150,000 Serbs have fled for Serbia proper since Yugoslav forces withdrew from Kosovo one year ago. About 100,000 remain, many living in enclaves protected by peacekeepers. Kosovo's total population is about two million.
Serbs populate all the villages around Lepine and use small tracks like the one where the mine had been laid to get from place to place because the main roads cross Albanian areas.
The run-up to the June 12 anniversary of the arrival of KFOR peacekeepers and the U.N.-led civilian administration saw an upsurge in violence, with eight Serbs killed in one week alone. Some 58 attacks against ethnic Serbs were registered in May.
Local officials believe that ethnic Albanian extremists are responsible for the murders and assaults.
Yugoslav authorities have seized on the attacks to denounce the KFOR and UN presence as a failure, demanding that they leave Kosovo, which is still legally, part of Yugoslavia.