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World - Europe

Officials: Peacekeepers killed while clearing NATO bombs from village

British soldiers patrol the area where a cluster bomb killed four people, including two NATO peacekeepers

 MILITARY PLAN:
Focus on
Kosovo
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 ALSO:
Clinton leaves Balkans hailed a hero by Kosovar Albanians

 MESSAGE BOARD:
Rebuilding Kosovo
 IN-DEPTH SPECIAL:
Focus on Kosovo
 

June 22, 1999
Web posted at: 11:07 a.m. EDT (1507 GMT)


In this story:

Heavy damage

Serbs on the run

Protesting Milosevic

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- NATO confirmed Tuesday that one of its own cluster bombs -- not a Yugoslav land mine or booby trap -- killed four people, including two NATO peacekeepers.

"These munitions were used by NATO in order to destroy Serb forces in the field in what was a Yugoslav army and paramilitary stronghold," said Lt. Col. Nick Clissitt, spokesman for the KFOR peacekeeping mission.

The deaths underscored what NATO and relief agencies repeatedly have been saying to ethnic Albanian refugees wanting to go home to Kosovo: the landscape is not safe.

The peacekeepers, British soldiers from a Gurkha engineering regiment, were removing the bombs from a school at the village of Negrovce, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of Pristina, when the explosion occurred.

CNN's Richard Blystone reported that villagers had piled the unexploded bombs at the schoolhouse and requested that NATO dispose of them. NATO peacekeepers removed the bombs to a nearby field for a controlled explosion, but two of three piles went off accidentally while they were being wired for the explosion.

The two soldiers -- Lt. Gareth Evans of Bristol and Sgt. Balaram Rai from Nepal -- were the first NATO fatalities since the peacekeepers entered Kosovo on June 12. A third civilian was wounded in the blast.

A British military spokesman said all three civilians were believed to be ex-Kosovo Liberation Army fighters helping the peacekeepers dispose of the munitions.

Blystone said that NATO bomb disposal units have dealt with about 10 of its own cluster bombs so far and about the same number of Serb mines. Although Monday's deaths were NATO's first, dozens of civilians have been killed in similar explosions since the peacekeeping mission began.

Heavy damage

Despite the potential danger, refugees are pouring back to their homes.

"We're getting very worried because people understandably are clamoring to come home and we just don't feel the security situation warrants that," said Michael Barton of the International Organization for Migration.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said Tuesday that more than 170,000 Kosovo Albanians have left Albania and Macedonia in the last week to return to their homes -- which may or not still be there.

"There is some hope and encouraging signs in towns like Prizren and indeed Pristina, but many towns -- and Pec comes to mind -- are burnt-out shells with few people shifting gingerly through the debris or wandering around looking dazed," said Patrick McCormick, a spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund who had just returned from a week-long trip into the province.

The destruction -- and who will pay and how much -- has been the subject of much international discussion in recent days, as world leaders met in the wake of the end of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia.

NATO's 78-day bombing campaign began March 24 and was aimed at forcing Yugoslav troops out of Kosovo. NATO peacekeepers entered the Serbian province as Yugoslav forces pulled out, intent on maintaining security.

One of KFOR's stiffer challenges has been dealing with KLA forces, some of whom have been fighting for independence for years. Early Monday, KLA and KFOR commanders approved a demilitarization agreement requiring the KLA to cease all hostilities, abandon its checkpoints and stockpile heavy weaponry.

But the agreement did not disband the KLA completely. The organization remains as a political force -- and perhaps later a defensive force along the lines of the U.S. National Guard, its leaders said.

Serbs on the run

NATO's peacekeepers are not only charged with keeping ethnic Albanians safe, but also guarding the Serbs who remained in the province. Reprisals and revenge have been reported throughout the region, prompting calls from international leaders for calm.

"(Retaliation) won't, in the end, satisfy anyone. It will only compound the horror," said U.S. President Bill Clinton Monday in Slovenia.

Clinton traveled to Macedonia Tuesday to meet with Macedonian and Albanian leaders and to tour a refugee camp on the Macedonia-Kosovo border. He planned to deliver the same message to the refugees who remained in the camp.

Tens of thousands of Kosovar Serbs fled to Serbia ahead of the arrival of KFOR troops. Later, officials appealed to the Serbs to return to their homes, but most have refused without guarantees of their safety.

Several hundred of the refugees demonstrated in Belgrade, demanding United Nations protection. Police sent to quell the demonstration, appeared upset by the protest.

"I spent almost one year in Kosovo," said one, who gave only his nickname, Mica. "I retreated with these same people. I don't know what to think now. I am going crazy."

Protesting Milosevic

The treatment of the refugees spurred other Yugoslavs to protest against their own government.

"No they are arresting refugees," said one man. "This is how they treat their own people."

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has come under fire, accused of abandoning Kosovo and his people. Opposition leaders and the Serbian Orthodox Church have called for his resignation.

Zoran Djindjic, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, predicted Milosevic's ouster.

"I believe (he will be gone by) the winter months (or) the first months of next year," he said. "This situation will be very risky for him. But as opposition we must do something. It will not be automatic."

Serbia's Alliance for Change, an umbrella group containing opposition parties and nongovernment organizations, has called for protests against the president. Djindjic said that a democratic movement inside Yugoslavia could change the government.

"Dictators like violence," Djindjic said. "If you use violence against dictators they are happy. You must undermine them by supporting positive democratic forces, not by creating conflict. Milosevic is good in conflicts."

Western officials have made clear their disdain for Milosevic, and have said that no reconstruction aid will be available for Serbia as long as the remains in power. Humanitarian aid -- including money for rebuilding power plants and water facilities -- will be made available however.

Correspondent Richard Blystone and Reuters contributed to this report.


RELATED STORIES:
Blast kills 2 British peacekeepers in Kosovo
June 21, 1999
Clinton arrives in Slovenia to herald 'success story'
June 21, 1999
G-8 promises aid to Yugoslavia, but who will pay?
June 20, 1999
G-8 nations to tackle Third World debt
June 18, 1999
Agreement reached on Russian role in Kosovo force
June 18, 1999
Yugoslav forces meet second withdrawal deadline
June 18, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Yugoslavia:
  • Federal Republic of Yugoslavia official site
      • Kesovo and Metohija facts
  • Serbia Ministry of Information
  • Serbia Now! News

Kosovo:
  • Kosova Crisis Center
  • Kosovo - from Albanian.com

Military:
  • NATO official site
  • BosniaLINK - U.S. Dept. of Defense
  • U.S. Navy images from Operation Allied Force
  • U.K. Ministry of Defence - Kosovo news
  • U.K. Royal Air Force - Kosovo news
  • Jane's Defence - Kosovo Crisis


Resettlement Agencies Helping Kosovars in U.S.:
  • Church World Service
  • Episcopal Migration Ministries
  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
  • Iowa Department of Human Services
  • International Rescue Committee
  • Immigration and Refugee Services of America
  • Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
  • United States Catholic Conference

Relief:
  • World Relief
  • Doctors without borders
  • U.S. Agency for International Development (Kosovo aid)
  • Doctors of the World
  • InterAction
  • International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Kosovo Humanitarian Disaster Forces Hundreds of Thousands from their Homes
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • Kosovo Relief
  • ReliefWeb: Home page
  • The Jewish Agency for Israel
  • Mercy International
  • UNHCR


Media:
  • Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
  • Independent Yugoslav radio stations B92
  • Institute for War and Peace Reporting
  • United States Information Agency - Kosovo Crisis

Other:
  • Expanded list of related sites on Kosovo
  • 1997 view of Kosovo from space - Eurimage
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