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Envoy Still Hopeful for Peace as Kosovo Fighting Continues

December 28, 1998| From Associated Press

OBRANCA, Yugoslavia — Artillery and mortar fire sounded across the snowy fields of rebel-controlled territory in northern Kosovo on Sunday--the fourth day of the worst clashes in months between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian separatists.

As darkness fell, lead international monitor William Walker claimed that a temporary truce had been reached to evacuate the wounded, and the U.S. diplomat voiced hope that "sporadic fighting" wouldn't degenerate into a return to all-out war.

However, both Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas and Serbian troops remained entrenched in their positions near the northern town of Podujevo, and there was no indication that the latest round of fighting was over.

The reported death toll from a Serbian crackdown that began Thursday reached 10--all ethnic Albanians--over the weekend with the reported discovery of another body late Saturday. Four Serbs and an Albanian rebel were reported wounded Sunday.

The latest clashes put intense pressure on an already shaky truce reached in October that halted more than seven months of fighting across the secessionist province in Serbia, the dominant republic of the rump Yugoslavia.

Bronislaw Geremek, chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which oversees the force of unarmed peace "verifiers," said the mission would be reevaluated "if the bloodshed and violence escalate."

But Walker, whose force is gradually building toward 2,000 unarmed verifiers, denied that the province was inevitably slipping back into war.

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