• ACI Russia

08/05/1998 09:17:23 Russia launches Kosovo mission amid refugee worry

(Updates with Russian mission,report of graves in Orahovac)

By Jeremy Gaunt

BELGRADE, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Russia stepped up diplomatic efforts to stop

fighting in Kosovo on Wednesday as concern grew about the actions of Serbian

forces in the Serbian province.

Moscow's deputy foreign minister, Nikolai Afanasyevsky, was to meet Yugoslav

officials in Belgrade before travelling to Pristina, Kosovo's provincial

capital, for talks with ethnic Albanian leader.

International observers, meanwhile, expressed concern about the number of

houses, deserted by ethnic Albanian refugees, they have seen burning as they

travel through the province.

The Austrian daily Die Presse said that one of its correspondents had been

shown what were said to be the graves of more than 500 people outside Orahovac

in western Kosovo, shich was the scene of fighting between Yugoslav forces and

separatists in July.

There was no immediate verification of the report by other sources.

U.S. envoy Chris Hill said on Tuesday after he visited Orahovac that he was

disturbed by the signs of destruction in Kosovo.

"We observed a number of structures in villages and towns that were

burning," he told reporters.

Western demands for a ceasefire in Kosovo, a Serbian province with a 90

percent ethnic Albanian majority, appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Clashes between Serbian security forces and Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)

guerrillas continued throughout the province on Tuesday, a day after the United

States, European Union and others had pushed for an end.

Refugees have fled the fighting, crossing Kosovo's hilly terrain in rickety

carts and seeking shelter where they could find it. Aid agencies estimated that

some 70,000 people have been displaced over the last week alone.

The total number of people displaced since clashes began in February is said

to be about 180,000.

In the closest thing to an official answer to Western demands, Serbian Prime

Minister Mirko Marjanovic said attempts to put down the insurgency were a

justified defence of national sovereignty.

"We will suppress any violence in Kosovo... We shall win this battle," he

was quoted as saying by the official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug.

Russia, a traditional Serb ally, has been trying to negotiate a peaceful

solution but strongly opposed any military intervention by the West, which has

threatened to use NATO force if necessary.

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, however, was quoted as saying on

Tuesday that there should be no outside military strikes against Serbian forces

without full United Nations backing.

And that backing, he said, would not come in the near future because of

Russian opposition to any such action.

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