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Yugoslavia: Ethnic Violence Declining In Kosovo

Pristina, 7 July 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO and UN officials in Kosovo said today that violence has declined sharply since NATO-led peacekeeping troops arrived in the southern Serbian province, and it will soon will be up to Kosovo's people to keep the peace themselves. However, correspondents say an incident in Kosovska Mitrovica today underlined the importance of the NATO troops. Only a large, well-armed escort by French soldiers and police prevented violence as about 5,000 ethnic Albanians marched through the Serb-held section of the divided city.

A spokesman for the KFOR peace force, Louis Garneau, said in Pristina that the situation is progressively improving. UN spokesman Kevin Kennedy said the deployment of civilian police from other countries will help curb remaining acts of violence between the province's returning majority ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs.

Meanwhile, the flow of refugees back to Kosovo has subsided, with just 12,300 people returning yesterday. The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said a total of almost 619,000 have returned to Kosovo so far, including a group of about 400 Kosovars who travelled today in the first official UNHCR convoy from Montenegro.

Elsewhere in Yugoslavia, there are more signs of the political fallout from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's decision to pull Serbian forces out of Kosovo to end NATO's bombardment.

Opposition activists in the southern Serbian city of Nis began collecting signatures on a petition calling on Milosevic to resign, following a series of opposition rallies around the country.

And Belgrade today rejected what it regarded as a snub to its authority when it refused permission for the chairman of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Norwegian foreign minister Knut Vollebaek, to visit Montenegro without travelling through Belgrade. Tiny Montenegro, the junior partner in the Yugoslav federation with Serbia, is increasingly challenging Milosevic's authority.

Meanwhile, the UN says war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour will go to Kosovo next week for talks with officials investigating mass graves and other evidence of war crimes. A spokesman said Arbour will go to Albania on Sunday and Macedonia on Monday before spending two days in Kosovo.

U.N. investigators are gathering evidence which could be used in court against Milosevic and four of his associates who were indicted in May for crimes against humanity.

Arbour attempted to go to Kosovo in January to investigate a massacre of ethnic Albanians in the village of Racak, but was turned back at the border.