Protester shot dead as US steps up pressure on Serbs

 

An ethnic Albanian was killed and several others were injured in Kosovo yesterday when Serb police opened fire on demonstrators, the Albanian-run Kosovo Information Centre reported.

It said the incident occurred in Pec, some 80 km west of the provincial capital Pristina, as the US special envoy, Mr Robert Gelbard, arrived in the capital for talks with Albanian leaders.

The information centre, run by the leading ethnic Albanian political party LDK, named the dead man as Mr Qerim Muriqi, adding that an unknown number of demonstrators were injured.

However, the duty officer at Pec police station said he had heard nothing of any incidents during the demonstration.

Around 40,000 Albanians also staged a peaceful demonstration in Pristina yesterday calling for an end to police violence and independence for the province, but there were no incidents.

Mr Gelbard was meeting leaders of ethnic Albanians who make up 90 per cent of the province's 1.8 million population in an attempt to persuade them to start talks with a Serbian government delegation on the province's future.

Earlier yesterday the Albanians rejected the latest in a series of invitations to meet the Serbian team, insisting they were only prepared to discuss independence and wanted an outside mediator, both demands rejected by Belgrade.

The international community also rules out independence for Kosovo but is pressing Serbia to restore the province's autonomy, abolished by Belgrade in 1989.

Serbia has to begin talks with Kosovo Albanians or, commencing today, face tough new sanctions, including a freeze on Yugoslav assets abroad. In a police crackdown in Kosovo earlier this month some 80 people died.

The US State Department says major powers have agreed on the text of a UN resolution imposing an arms embargo on Yugoslavia. Diplomats at the UN in New York said it could be adopted this week.

Meanwhile, the US Deputy Secretary of State, Mr Strobe Talbott, talking to reporters in Sofia after talks with the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Mr Ivan Kostov, accused Belgrade of summary executions and "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo and said the viability of the Yugoslav state depended on its ability to solve the crisis.

Today, the French and German Foreign Ministers, Mr Hubert Vedrine and Mr Klaus Kinkel, fly to Belgrade. According to French diplomats, they may offer Serbia co-operation agreements in return for concessions on Kosovo.

The United Nations warned yesterday that the food situation in Kosovo was worsening and appealed to the international community for urgent contingency planning in case violence spread to neighbouring countries.