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New Serbian Offensive Said to Be Underway in Separatist Province

September 09, 1998| From Associated Press

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia — Serbian forces reportedly launched a new offensive against separatists in western Kosovo on Tuesday, a day after U.S. envoys failed to persuade Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to halt the attacks.

Serbian forces also accused ethnic Albanian rebels of mass executions of Serbian civilians and showed reporters the bodies of some of the alleged victims.

For their part, ethnic Albanian villagers said at least 19 people had been killed in the previous few days and reported Serbian troops looting and burning homes in villages near the border with Albania.

Aid workers have warned of an increasing humanitarian disaster in Kosovo, a southern province in Serbia, one of the two republics that make up Yugoslavia. Hundreds have been killed and more than 230,000 villagers have been forced from their homes since Milosevic launched a crackdown in February against the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA.

On Monday, a top State Department official met with Milosevic to call for a cease-fire and partial withdrawal of the police and army so that thousands of civilians could return home.

John Shattuck, assistant secretary of State for human rights, said Milosevic was responsible for the situation in Kosovo and that war or peace in the province depends on him alone. Shattuck and former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole both said they were shocked by the destruction and human rights abuses in Kosovo.

The U.S. opposes independence for Kosovo, fearing it could destabilize the southern Balkans.

But KLA political representative Adem Demaci criticized U.S. envoys Christopher Hill and Richard Holbrooke, the U.N. ambassador-designate, who have been trying to hammer out an agreement for Kosovo, saying they favor the Serbs.

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