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7/24/99:

[Source: Associated Press]

NATO Finds 14 Serb Bodies in Kosovo
By Daniel J. Wakin
Associated Press Writer

Saturday, July 24, 1999; 10:32 a.m. EDT

GRACKO, Yugoslavia (AP) -- NATO and international officials appealed for calm in Kosovo today after 14 Serbs were found shot dead in a field, a chilling massacre that heightened fears of a worsening cycle of violence in the Serbian province.

The head of the NATO-led peacekeeping force acknowledged that such vengeance killings are beyond their control, despite the presence of 36,000 peacekeepers in the province.

``We cannot be everywhere all the time,'' British Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson said in Kosovo's capital of Pristina.

The killings Friday night in the Serb village of Gracko in central Kosovo were the worst single act of violence since peacekeepers entered the province in mid-June, officials said today. Villagers said the dead included a 15- or 16-year-old boy.

``The world did not intervene to make Kosovo safe for revenge and intolerance,'' said the U.N. administrator for the province, Bernard Kouchner, denouncing the killings as an ``inhumane and senseless act.''

NATO's report of the grim discovery overshadowed the announcement later in the day by the head of peacekeeping troops in Kosovo that ethnic Albanian rebels have so far met their obligations toward full disarmament by the fall.

The killings also heightened fears of a renewal of conflict in Kosovo. The general in charge of Yugoslav army troops who fought in the province warned in an interview published today that Belgrade could send some forces back if international forces don't take measures to protect Kosovo Serbs.

A patrol heard shots Friday night near the predominantly Serb village of Gracko, about 10 miles south of Pristina, NATO officials said today.

Thirteen bodies were found an hour later lying in a circle on a dirt road about a mile southwest of the village. Another body was found about 150 yards away, slumped over a tractor, said Maj. Ian Seraph, a spokesman for British peacekeepers in the area.

The men had been shot with automatic weapons, he said.

In Gracko, home to about 80 Serb families, women in black wailed in grief in one courtyard today. Another woman wept as she walked past the entrance of a road leading to the site of the shootings.

Villagers had reported the men overdue from harvesting wheat. The villagers later heard gunshots and called a local hotline set up by NATO. A British patrol also heard the shots and later found the bodies.

British Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson, head of peacekeeping forces, called it ``a cowardly act of brutal and cold murder.''

``It was particularly tragic that it happened as we were all beginning to feel real progress on the road to peace in Kosovo,'' he said.

Angry Serbs were heard firing their guns in the streets of the village this morning.

Residents accused the Kosovo Liberation Army, noting that the field where the men were killed was near an ethnic Albanian village, Bujance, which was a known KLA stronghold and hostile toward Serbs.

``Their only goal is to kill every Serb in Kosovo and ethnically cleanse it -- to get all the Serbs out,'' said one resident, Slavisa Milosavljevic.

A top KLA commander, Agim Ceku, denied that ethnic Albanian guerrillas were responsible for the killings, which he condemned.

The Serbs also blamed the international peacekeeping force for failing to provide protection. Milosavljevic said the villagers had asked British peacekeeping officials for protection a week ago when they started harvesting wheat, but were rejected.

``They went there alone and look what happened,'' he said.

Seraph, the British spokesman, said the request was ``impossible'' to grant because of the high number of farmhands in the area.

Jackson announced that he was ``broadly satisfied'' that the KLA had met a requirement to turn in most of their heavy weapons and some automatic weapons by a 30-day deadline that passed Wednesday. He said there were three instances of discrepancies between the count of ammunition stores by peacekeepers and the rebels' tally, but dismissed them as insignificant.

Under the June disarmament accord, the KLA must fully demilitarize by Sept. 19.

NATO said there had been no previous reports of trouble in Gracko, a village of whitewashed houses surrounded by fields of sunflowers, corn, hay and wheat. Sporadic violence has been reported in nearby areas, however, and peacekeepers occasionally have come under fire in the U.S.-controlled sector to the east.

The bodies were taken to Pristina's main hospital, where workers showed reporters 14 corpses in white plastic body bags at the hospital morgue. One had been shot in the chin, and the face of another appeared to have been bashed in.

Relatives of the dead were escorted by peacekeepers to the morgue, and women inside could be heard wailing and moaning.

In Belgrade, Yugoslav Army Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic accused international peacekeepers of deliberate foot-dragging, creating a ``security vacuum'' that has caused Serbs to flee the province, the daily Politika reported today in an interview before the killings.

 

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