- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2004

U.S. and European officials scrambled yesterday to restore calm in Kosovo after an eruption of violence left 28 dead in the troubled province of Serbia and Montenegro.

NATO moved quickly to reinforce its troops in Kosovo with up to 350 soldiers from Bosnia-Herzegovina, including lead elements of British and French battalions.

More than 2,000 Italian, German and Romanian troops were expected to augment the effort in the coming days, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

“The point here is that [the NATO-led force] is taking strong action to restore stability and protect all the residents of Kosovo,” the spokesman said.

With memories still fresh of the 1998 massacres of Kosovo Albanians by neighboring Serbs and the resulting war that left 10,000 dead, European, U.S. and regional diplomats rushed to contain the unrest that erupted Tuesday.

Mobs of ethnic Albanians yesterday rampaged again through villages, looting apartments hastily abandoned by minority Serbs fleeing the violence that injured hundreds of people, peacekeepers and police. Serbian Orthodox churches were a particular target.

The violence exposed the continuing deep divisions between Kosovo’s mostly Muslim ethnic Albanians, who want independence from Serbia and Montenegro, and Orthodox Christian Serbs, a minority in Kosovo who consider the province their ancient homeland.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met with Serb Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic yesterday. Adm. Gregory Johnson, who commands NATO forces in southern Europe, said the violence amounted to “ethnic cleansing.”

American peacekeepers in full body armor blocked the main road leading to the province’s north in a bid to stop the violence from spreading, searching cars and people for signs of troublemakers and weapons.

Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman worked the phones, calling U.N. Special Representative for Kosovo Harri Holkeri, Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi and Serbian President Vojislav Kostunica.

In Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, the U.S. chief of diplomatic mission, Marcie Ries, urged U.N. and local Kosovo government leaders to use their influence to restore calm.

Pat Cox, who serves as president of the European Union’s parliament, told officials in the State Department yesterday the violence in Kosovo could permanently damage the province’s future.

“I think we are all shocked by the violence, which is deeply disturbing,” Mr. Cox said. “In a direct way, it is a fundamental challenge to the U.S. and European vision of a multi-ethnic Kosovo.”

Kosovo’s war ended in 1999 after NATO airstrikes halted former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s crackdown on ethnic Albanian militants.

Five years after the war, the province is under U.N. administration but remains part of Serbia. The United States and United Nations have pushed a “standards-before-status” formula, requiring Kosovo’s government to pursue economic and social reforms before any decision on independence can be considered.

Mr. Ereli said yesterday that the United States had called other members of the so-called “Contact Group” on Kosovo — Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Russia and the European Commission — to meet in Brussels on March 23 to discuss the Balkan crisis.

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