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Yugoslavia: Serbian Forces Launch Offensive Against Ethnic Albanians

Pristina, 29 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -Serbian security forces launched a major offensive today against ethnic-Albanian insurgents in Serbia's Kosovo province in a rebel-held area just outside the provincial capital, Pristina. Western news agencies say Serbian police, backed by armed personnel carriers, sealed off the road to the mining town of Belacevac early this morning.

Some time later, explosions and automatic gunfire could be heard coming from the sealed-off town. Smoke billowed overhead. News agencies report civilians were fleeing on foot. Police were seen surrounding a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) entrenchment just outside the village.

The Belacevac mine is strategically important because it supplies coal to a nearby power plant, which in turn powers most of Kosovo. The Belacevac region is the closest area to Pristina held by the KLA, who seized it about a week ago.

Meanwhile, tension remains high in the town of Kijevo, some 40 kms west of Pristina. About 200 Serb civilians and 20 policemen are estimated to be in the village, surrounded by KLA fighters.

The KLA holds large areas north and south of the road that passes through Kijevo and connects the main Kosovo cities of Pristina and Pec.

Meanwhile today U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged swift international steps to prevent a "second Bosnia" in Kosovo, but reiterated that the Security Council must approve any military action.

Speaking in Vienna, Annan said the focus remains on diplomacy, and that the possibility of military action should be considered carefully. The Security Council is set to take up the Kosovo issue later today in New York.

Also today the European Union said it will not conduct talks with armed ethnic Albanian separatists in the Serb province of Kosovo. British Foreign Minister Robin Cook, chairman of the EU's Council of Ministers, said the international community should deal with Ibrahim Rugova, the "legitimate elected leader" of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Rugova follows a non-violent policy in quest of autonomy for ethnic Albanians Kosovo.