- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

LUCANE, Yugoslavia An explosion destroyed a police van and killed three Serbian officers just outside Kosovo yesterday, heightening tensions already taut after a bus bombing that killed at least seven Serbian civilians inside the troubled province.
Yugoslavia blamed both attacks on Kosovo's ethnic Albanian militants, who denied responsibility and said one of their commanders was killed by Serbian police later yesterday in Lucane, just outside a buffer zone separating Kosovo from the rest of Serbia.
With violence mounting, Yugoslavia urged NATO to act immediately to keep the militants out of the buffer zone, which they have used to stage attacks on Serbian police and Yugoslav army troops.
The militants want to join the zone with Kosovo as part of a push for independence for the Serbian province, which has been run by the United Nations and NATO-led peacekeepers since a NATO bombing campaign drove out Yugoslav forces in June 1999.
Friday's bombing of a bus carrying Serbs to visit the graves of relatives in Kosovo killed at least seven persons and wounded 43, the deadliest attack since 13 Serbian farmers were killed with machine guns while tilling their fields in July 1999.
The three policemen died yesterday when their van was demolished by what were believed to be anti-tank mines on a road near Lucane, a southern Serbian village just outside the 3-mile-wide buffer zone.
The zone was created to prevent what officials feared would be clashes between Serbian forces and the NATO-led peacekeepers patrolling Kosovo under the 1999 peace deal.
Only lightly armed Serbian police are allowed to enter the zone, and ethnic Albanian militants have taken control of most of the strip in recent months.
Yugoslav authorities say the peacekeepers have failed to fulfill a mandate to keep the ethnic Albanian militants and their weapons out of the buffer zone.
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic appealed yesterday to NATO Secretary-General George Robertson to ensure that the peacekeeping force immediately seals Kosovo's boundary with Serbia.
The militants have attacked Serbian police inside the zone and sometimes launch attacks across the line into Serbia proper. The explosion yesterday took place about 200 yards outside the zone.
Serbian police came under fire while trying to pull the victims out of the wreckage, a government statement said. Serbian officials reported a further exchange of gunfire between police and the rebels in the buffer zone later yesterday.
A spokesman for the ethnic Albanian militants, Jonuz Musliu, said one rebel commander was killed by Serbian police yesterday in Lucane and another commander and a soldier were wounded.
Mr. Musliu, the political officer of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac denied the group was behind the policemen's deaths and condemned the bus bombing.

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