Saturday, January 08, 2005

Ethnic Albanian youth shot dead near Serbian border

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) - Top military officials were trying to defuse tensions Saturday in Serbia's restive south, where a border guard fatally shot an ethnic Albanian youth a day earlier.

Dashnim Hajrulahu, 16, from the village of Miratovci, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) southeast of Belgrade, was shot Friday in the border zone near Serbia's boundary with Macedonia, to the south, and the U.N.-run Kosovo province to the west.

A border guard fired on the youth, said investigative judge Ivan Bulatovic. He refused to give further details until the investigation was complete.

Serbia-Montenegro Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic and army chiefs visited the region Saturday to ease tensions over the shooting.

Davinic expressed condolences to the victim's family, and said initial findings showed Hajrulahu had been crossing the border illegally and that the army acted within its authority. He promised a thorough investigation.

On Friday night, about 200 villagers demonstrated in Miratovci, claiming the killing was unlawful and that Hajrulahu was shot well away from the border line.

Several hundred ethnic Albanians also protested Saturday in the nearby town of Presevo, where regional council members met and pledged to seek legal action against the soldier.

Hajrulahu's family said they believed he was gunned down while taking a shortcut over a field on his way home after visiting his mother, who lives in neighboring Macedonia, local media reports said.

A local ethnic Albanian politician, Orhan Rexhepi, blamed the incident on Serbia-Montenegro's decision to deploy reinforcements last month in the tense south.

This region in southern Serbia, known as Presevo Valley, lies adjacent to Kosovo. It was the scene of a 2000 ethnic Albanian insurgency in which rebels fought Serbian government forces in a bid to unite the area with the ethnic Albanian-dominated Kosovo.

The fighting ended through Western mediation but the area remains tense, with the majority ethnic Albanians demanding more authority.

Presevo Mayor Ragmi Mustafa said the regional council would also ask for support from Albanians in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia for a diplomatic initiative on Presevo Valley.

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