Washington Post
New crime wave targets Serbs

Jeffrey Smith

Saturday, June 3, 2000


PRISTINA, Yugoslavia, June 2 –– Five Serbs departed this morning from their small village near the Kosovo capital, expecting a routine ride along a dirt road to another Serbian village several miles away. But they ran into a freshly planted land mine along the way, and now two men are dead, and two young children and a woman are in a hospital.

Vlastinmir Miric, 52, and Sinisa Dimic, 61, are the most recent Serbian victims in a spate of slayings--all assumed to be ethnically motivated--that are provoking widespread frustration and anger among international officials here. In the past six days, eight Serbs have died violently, with five of the deaths occurring in the southeastern Kosovo region controlled by U.S. peacekeeping troops.

"The killings are cold-blooded; some appear to have been planned, and they make no distinction between men, women and children," said Susan Manuel, a spokeswoman for the U.N. mission here. "This is an extremely disturbing trend." Recently, Kosovo has been averaging one slaying per day.

Kosovo is approaching the first anniversary of the arrival of U.N. administrators and NATO forces to police a cease-fire with Yugoslavia, supervise the withdrawal of Serbian troops, organize the return of expelled ethnic Albanians and stop ethnic conflict.

The cease-fire, declared June 9, 1999, came after 11 weeks of NATO bombing and 16 months of warfare between Yugoslav troops and ethnic Albanian guerrillas fighting to win Kosovo's independence from Yugoslavia. Kosovo is still officially a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's larger republic, but it is governed by the United Nations.

Five of the Serbs who were killed recently--including a boy age 4 and a 67-year-old woman--were slain in drive-by shootings, an increasingly common technique here. The boy was standing on Sunday with a group of men in the village of Cernica 2 1/2 miles from the city of Gnjilane, where some U.S. forces are based.

In another incident, Milutin Trajkovic, a 33-year-old father of three, was standing outside his house in Babin Most, west of the capital, when gunmen shot him from a speeding gray Volkswagen; two NATO soldiers were injured in a subsequent riot provoked by one of his relatives. On Thursday, Lepterka Marinkovic, 67, was gunned down by men who passed her in two cars near while she was walking in the Serbian village of Klokot.

In addition to the two men who died in the mine attack, one Serbian woman died when she apparently was intentionally struck by a car driven by an ethnic Albanian in the town of Blinca, also near Gnjilane.

The deaths bring the number of murders in Kosovo--including those provoked by crime, not ethnic hatred--since the end of the war to more than 560; U.N. police say roughly 42 percent of the victims have been ethnic Albanians, 36 percent have been Serbs, and 22 percent were of unknown ethnicity.

The most recent killings provoked harsh denunciations by top NATO and U.N. officials here. "These drive-by shootings demonstrate cowardice in the killing of unarmed civilians," said U.S. Brig. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commands NATO troops in the southeastern region.

"I am outraged by the recent increase in violence," said British Brig. Gen. Richard Shirreff, who commands NATO troops in central Kosovo. He called on residents to take stock of progress made over the past year and "look ahead. ... Kosovo cannot squander its opportunity to develop into a democratic and peaceful place for all the people of Kosovo."

Officials were at a loss to explain why this week was particularly violent. A senior U.N. police official said it could be related to such simple factors as warmer weather, or the fact that foreign officials have talked recently of organizing the return to Kosovo of Serbs who fled at the end of last year's war. He also noted a pattern of heightened mayhem surrounding other anniversaries here.

"We were expecting some tension around this period of time, but obviously we can't say for sure that is the cause of what's going on now," said Manuel, the U.N. spokeswoman. "There seems to be a message out there, but I can't say how planned or orchestrated this is."



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