With chants of “Independence! Independence!” tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians appealed for the world’s help Friday against Serb police who have killed more than 80 people in a crackdown on separatists.
More than 40,000 ethnic Albanians held one of their biggest protests yet against Serbia, hoping to turn foreign sympathy for residents in the southern province of Kosovo into real support.
“NATO, we need you,” read one of thousands of signs hoisted over the heads of the crowd. “Stop Serbian terror,” read another.
“We want to be free like the Americans are,” said Adriana, 18, who, like other protesters, feared retribution if she gave her full name.
Serb police, who have used force to disperse several recent rallies, looked on warily Friday but avoided a confrontation - apparently mindful of the international attention focused on Kosovo.
There is a growing sentiment for independence among Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the province’s population.
The United States and its allies have condemned the police brutality, but no foreign power backs the Albanian demand for independence.
At a meeting Friday in Edinburgh, Scotland, the European Union’s foreign ministers demanded the right to monitor Kosovo to deter further brutality by Serb forces against ethnic Albanians. They also decided to dispatch observers to neighboring Albania to try to ensure that Serbia does not encroach there and appointed a mediator for talks between the two sides.
The ministers - knowing how the EU dithered when ethnic fighting broke out in Croatia and Bosnia - are eager to avoid another big blunder in Kosovo.
The demonstrators in Pristina gathered Friday on a hill outside the American Cultural Center - where police have been reluctant to use force. They flashed V-for-victory signs and chanted “We’ll give up our lives, we won’t give up Kosovo!”
“There is a saying that blood doesn’t dry, and doesn’t disappear - especially when it is shed by the adversary in a most barbarian and inhumane way,” student leader Bujar Dujolli told the crowd.
The United States has called for “quiet diplomacy” to bring about talks between Serb and local Albanian officials to resolve the crisis.
But with Serbs refusing to consider the independence demands and the Albanians incensed by the recent killings, chances of a negotiated solution seem slim.
Bolstered by Washington’s denunciation of a Serb offer for talks as a “propaganda exercise,” ethnic Albanian leaders have refused to take part in the talks - which they call a Serb ploy to quiet world criticism.
A Serb negotiating team left Pristina on Friday after Albanian leaders refused for two days to see them.
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic issued a sharply critical statement, saying “there are no justified reasons for the representatives of ethnic Albanian national minority not to engage in open dialogue, initiated by the Serbian government.”
In Washington, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced a $1 million contribution to the U.N. war crimes tribunal for Yugoslavia to investigate the recent violence.
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