Two elderly Serbs killed in rocket attack on UN Kosovo bus
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia, Feb 3 (AFP) – Two elderly Kosovo Serbs were killed and five injured in a rocket attack on Wednesday on a UN refugee bus escorted by French soldiers of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), UN officials said.
The bus carrying 49 Serbs had been leased by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and was running between the Serb village of Banja and the divided northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica, a UNHCR statement said.
It was hit by an anti-tank rocket at around 4:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) near the village of Cubrilj in the northern French-controlled sector of Kosovo.
“I am horrified by this incident,” said UNHCR Special Envoy Dennis McNamara, who said he was suspending all UNHCR bus lines while the attack is investigated. “This was a vicious attack on a clearly marked UNHCR bus carrying civilians.”
The bus service had been running every week since November. It was escorted by two KFOR armoured vehicles when the attack occurred on a foggy road near Drenica, the stronghold of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
KFOR closed the road and launched a massive search for the attackers, KFOR spokesman Philip Anido said.
The bodies of an elderly man and woman, whose identities were not immediately known, and the five injured, were evacuated by KFOR to the French military hospital in Mitrovica, he added.
The Danish driver of the bus, who worked for the Danish Refugee Council, escaped unhurt.
KFOR commander General Klaus Reinhardt issued a forceful condemnation of the “mindless” and “deplorable” attack, extending his condolences to the families of the victims and vowing to track down the killers.
“I cannot overemphasise how shocked and deeply disturbed I am by this terrorist” attack, which he termed a “deliberate attempt to kill and maim defenceless Serbian men, women and children,” he said in a statement.
UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler said it was the first planned attack on a KFOR-escorted convoy transporting Kosovo Serbs, thousands of whom live in isolated enclaves in the Yugoslav province under heavy KFOR protection.
Another UNHCR Serb convoy was spontaneously set upon in the western town of Pec in October by ethnic Albanians after taking a wrong turn and losing its escort, leaving more than a dozen people injured.
McNamara said “this sort of incident sets us back enormously,” adding that the bus lines have been a “key part of the UNHCR’s strategy to provide for the freedom of movement of populations living in Kosovo’s isolated enclaves.”
He said the UNHCR was aware that the convoys “are not risk free, but we are trying to push the process forward as safely as we can in a fundamentally volatile situation.”
“We certainly will not encourage Serbs to return at this stage to Kosovo because of the security situation, as exemplified in this tragic incident, though this is an extreme incident.”
McNamara and Reinhardt are to visit the scene of the attack early Thursday, KFOR said.
Reinhardt said he had asked the head of the French forces, General Pierre de Saqui de Sannes, who officially took over regional command Wednesday, to convey his best wishes to the injured during a hospital visit.
Some 250,000 non-Albanian Kosovars have fled the province since last June, when NATO bombed Serbian forces out of Kosovo in a bid to halt widespread oppression of the ethnic Albanian majority.
Kosovo has been plagued by inter-ethnic violence ever since, despite the presence of some 42,000 international peacekeeping troops.
Copyright (c) 2000 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 02/02/2000 19:30:38