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Mine Kills British Soldier in Kosovo

Balkans: The blast injures 2 others. Meanwhile, 1,000 Yugoslav troops are deployed in buffer zone in an effort to undercut an ethnic Albanian insurgency.

April 15, 2001|DAVID HOLLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — One British soldier was killed and two were injured when their armored vehicle struck an antitank mine near Kosovo's border with Macedonia, the NATO-led peacekeeping force said Saturday.

The region where the Friday evening incident occurred is adjacent to a part of Macedonia that saw heavy fighting last month between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and Macedonian security forces. But the peacekeeping force, known as KFOR, said it was not immediately clear whether the mine had been laid recently or dated back to the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo between the Yugoslav army and ethnic Albanian separatists.

"The explosion left a crater 1 meter [3 1/4 feet] deep and blew the vehicle onto its side," KFOR spokesman Capt. Erdal Ozkan said. The injured soldiers, whose wounds were not serious, were evacuated to a nearby U.S. base, he added.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in southern Serbia--the dominant Yugoslav republic--about 1,000 federal soldiers were deployed Saturday in a buffer zone that was set up in mid-1999 to keep Belgrade's forces at a three-mile distance from the KFOR troops in Kosovo. NATO approved the phased redeployment as part of an effort to undercut an ethnic Albanian insurgency based in the buffer zone in the Presevo Valley.

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, speaking to reporters in the southern Serbian town of Medvedja, said that with the move, "we regained sovereignty over one more part of our territory." Although Saturday's deployment extended the reach of Yugoslav army and police control, the area involved did not include the part of the buffer zone where the most active guerrilla forces have been based.

The guerrillas' political leadership, under severe international pressure, formally agreed last month to the phased Yugoslav deployment and an accompanying cease-fire. But guerrilla leaders have continued to criticize the movement of Yugoslav forces into the zone and have said they cannot guarantee that all armed Albanians in the area will accept it.

Under the terms agreed on for the deployment, Yugoslav forces cannot enter private land or buildings in ethnic Albanian villages.

Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic told reporters in Medvedja that he foresees the deployment of police and soldiers into the rest of the buffer zone "in coming weeks."

"The policy of the governments of both Serbia and Yugoslavia is to preserve the current territory of Yugoslavia and ensure that the state [administration] returns to all of its territories, which include Kosovo," Zivkovic said. Kosovo, a province of Serbia, is under United Nations administration. Ethnic Albanians form the great majority of its population, and virtually all of them are in favor of independence.

In a step toward restarting political talks on the future of the primarily ethnic Albanian communities of the Presevo Valley, ethnic Albanian guerrillas Saturday turned over to KFOR peacekeepers three Serbian men they had held since early March. The government in Belgrade, the Yugoslav and Serbian capital, considered the men hostages, while the guerrillas said they had been caught with explosives and were suspected of planning to blow up a mosque.

Shawn Sullivan, the political representative of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Yugoslavia, accepted the hand-over of the three men in the rebel-held village of Konculj. He described their release as "a very good humanitarian gesture." The men were to spend Saturday night at a U.S. base in Kosovo and be turned over to Yugoslav authorities today.

Covic, the Serbian deputy prime minister who also heads Belgrade's coordination body for the Presevo Valley, responded to the release of the men by thanking "representatives of the ethnic Albanian community who were strong enough to implement this important measure of trust."

The release "opens the possibility for our further cooperation in living together and solving problems through peaceful means," he said.

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