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Yugoslavia: Ethnic Albanians Demonstrate In Kosovo As Contact Group Meets

Pristina, 9 March 1998 (RFE/RL) - Tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians today held one of their biggest demonstrations in a decade in Pristina -- capital of Kosovo province -- to protest the killing of dozens by Serb police. Also today, the international organization Human Rights Watch said that "war crimes" are being committed in Kosovo and the six-power Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia met in London today.

For the first time since troubled Kosovo was stripped of its autonomy in 1989, police did not interfere with the protest. Heavily armed riot squads sat in buses in sidestreets, but made no attempt to break up the crowd.

Simultaneous protests were also held in other towns and villages across Kosovo, where the ethnic Albanian majority are seeking independence from Serbia. Correspondents say that organizers of the protests deliberately kept them short to limit the risk of police action.

Also today, the international organization Human Rights Watch said that "war crimes" are being committed in Kosovo. The group is demanding an investigation by the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague.

In a letter sent to the international tribunal's chief prosecutor Louise Arbour, the Brussels-based group said Serb forces have indiscriminately attacked ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo during the past week. The group says there is evidence that some civilians may have been summarily executed. The group has based its demands on reports from villages in the Drenica region of the southern Serbian province.

Today's protests against killings of dozens of alleged Albanian separatists over the last four days were timed to coincide with the meeting in London of the six-power Contact Group on former Yugoslavia.

The meeting brings together officials from Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Russia and The United States. The U.S. is pressing for punitive measures against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to force him to end a Serbian security forces operation against the alleged Albanian separatists.

A spokesman for Germany's Interior Ministry also said today that Bonn has no plans to stop deporting ethnic Albanian refugees back to Yugoslavia despite the recent violence. Spokesman Detlef Dauke said people whose asylum applications are rejected are deported back to countries, not specific regions.

Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel has told German radio that a study of the situation in Kosovo during the next few days could lead to a change in Bonn's policy.