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Yugoslavia: Reporters Say Serbs Have Retaken Coalmine In Kosovo

Pristina, 1 July 1998 (RFE/RL) - Journalists today visited the scene of recent fighting near the Kosovar capital Pristina and report Serb forces have retaken a critical coalmine near the town of Belacevac. Western news agencies quote the journalists as saying the mine, some 10 kms west of Pristina, appeared to be operating. The mine and nearby power plants provide much of Kosovo's electricity.

Officials with the pro-Serbian media center in Pristina said there may still be some fighters of the separatist ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) in the town. But they said that the nearby town of Ade had been retaken, a claim the journalists confirmed.

Serb forces began operations to retake the coalmine and the surrounding region on Monday. The UCK took the mine last week.

Meanwhile, Serbia's top representative in Kosovo, Veljko Odalovic, said the village of Kijevo may be the next target of Serb forces. Last month, UCK fighters surrounded the town, which sits astride the main east-west road in the province, and isolated the village's ethnic Serb population. Reuters reports that the area around Kijevo, some 40 kms west of Pristina, appears quiet today.

Austria today took over the EU presidency from Britain. Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel told reporters he has no objections to diplomatic contacts with the UCK. But he said contacts should not undermine Ibrahim Rugova,the elected leader of Kosovar Albanians who advocates non-violent means while calling for independence.

Also today, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said Kosovar Albanians should not expect immediate NATO intervention to stop the violence. He said it would take time to win UN Security Council approval.

A four month Serb crackdown on Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority has reportedly left more than 300 people dead. The fighting has intensified calls among Kosovar Albanians for independence and appears to have swollen the ranks of the UCK.