Cease-Fire With Cross-Fire: Killing Shows the Depth of Kosovo Conflict

Saturday's shooting of a young ethnic Albanian boy points up challenge facing West in enforcing peace.

Hasime Elshani sat cross-legged on a ruby-red carpet, a white scarf pulled tightly over her head and the body of her 11-year-old son at her feet. One hand she ran through her child's hair, the other held his hand.

"I told him not to go out of the house," she says. "But he didn't listen. I bought him new clothes that he will never wear."

The boy, Shemsi, an ethnic Albanian, was in the forest helping his father cut wood for the winter.

"I heard three bursts of automatic fire," says the father, Rashit. "I went to the ground to avoid the bullets. I didn't know where my son was and I crawled to safety. When I got home he was not here."

The Oct. 24 killing was one of many hundreds in Kosovo's seven-month-old conflict between Serbs and ethnic Albanians. But it came during a period of troop withdrawal, during a cease-fire, and just three days before a NATO deadline aimed at stopping the war, underscoring the difficulties of bringing peace to this region.

Yesterday, the boy's funeral was delayed after seven men making preparations for it were shot at. Local officials asked US monitors to provide a presence to deter further attacks. But such a presence would not guarantee safety. "And if any other diplomats say they can protect them then they don't know what they are saying," monitor-team leader Norman Olsen told Reuters.

Three days before, not far from Krajkovo, two Yugoslav soldiers were killed, Army officials said, presumably by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Under an agreement struck two weeks ago between US envoy Richard Holbrooke and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, special Serbian and Yugoslav forces were supposed to withdraw from the region. The KLA was supposed to abide by its own cease-fire.

According to villagers in Krajkovo, tanks last week moved into the hills of the village of Poterk, the direction from which the boy was shot. Villagers and Western observers say they had seen four tanks and two artillery pieces there.

Diplomats in Kosovo say that the secessionist ethnic Albanian army, the KLA, shares some of the guilt for violations of the agreement. The KLA agreed to a cease-fire, but, diplomats say, they have occasionally broken it, thus making it seem justifiable for the Serbs to maintain their presence in the region.

As a result, US and European officials were in negotiations last week with KLA commanders. The plan is to break Kosovo into zones and get the Serbs to withdraw area by area. After a zone is clear, the diplomats try to get the KLA to abide by a cease-fire in that place.

Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is preparing to begin its 2,000-person verification mission.

The United Nations Security Council is debating a measure that would enforce the Holbrooke-Milosevic deal and also back up OSCE workers, should their safety be threatened. NATO could still intervene in Kosovo if the Serbs do not comply with international demands by Oct. 27, but that seems unlikely.

With Serbian and Yugoslav troop withdrawals, international officials hope that some 300,000 ethnic Albanians who were driven from their homes can return before winter. Diplomats are stepping up negotiations about the future of Kosovo.

"We've had a horrendous situation on the ground which has made it impossible to move on the political track," says a senior Western diplomat. "We have to have a strong political deal ... implemented before the spring fighting season," he says.

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