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14 Serb Farmers Killed Near a Field in Kosovo

July 24, 1999|VALERIE REITMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia — In the most deadly incident since NATO peacekeepers rolled into Kosovo last month, 14 Serbian farmers were shot to death Friday night near the field where they were harvesting wheat.

NATO officials said British patrols heard shots shortly after 9 p.m. near the village of Gracko, just south of the provincial capital, Pristina. An hour later, 13 bodies were discovered near a grain silo, and a 14th man was found dead nearby on his tractor.

No suspects had been taken into custody by early this morning, NATO said, and it wasn't known whether there was more than one gunman.

"These are particularly terrible events coming at a time when peace was just beginning to come to Kosovo, but we must not let them become a catalyst for further bloodshed," the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said in a statement.

Serbs in Kosovo--a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic--have been hard hit since the war's end by violence by ethnic Albanians seeking to avenge the burning, looting and killing of thousands at Serbian hands during the war.

In the area being patrolled by U.S. forces, for example, about 75% of the violence that has occurred has been committed by ethnic Albanians, according to U.S. Army Maj. Steve Russell. Overall, 90% of the 200 suspects being detained by NATO forces are ethnic Albanians, although NATO officials point out that the breakdown is consistent with the population of Kosovo, which is 90% ethnic Albanian.

The massacre also dealt a major blow to the multiethnic society envisioned by U.N. and NATO forces who are trying to rebuild the society: Most of the estimated 250,000 Serbs in the province before NATO peacekeepers moved in last month have fled. Fewer than 50,000 are thought to be remaining.

Those who have stayed--most of whom live in all-Serb villages or sections of town--feel captive, unable to shop or walk the streets without fearing for their lives.

Earlier Friday, during a visit to Kosovo, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder pledged moral and material aid to ethnic Albanians and Serbs.

Thousands of ethnic Albanians mobbed the chancellor, shouting, "Schroeder! Schroeder!" and "Deutschland! Deutschland!" as he walked through the streets of Prizren, the city in southwestern Kosovo where German peacekeepers are based.

Securing democracy in Yugoslavia is a "precondition for improving the region," Schroeder said later, setting the tone for a major summit next week on the future of the Balkans.

Schroeder's five-hour visit was an important show of Western support for peace in Kosovo. It also was full of symbolism for Germany, which is trying to forge a new role as a continental peace builder.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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