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  •   Bitter Serbs Blame Leader for Risking Beloved Kosovo

    By R. Jeffrey Smith
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Monday, June 29, 1998; Page A10

    KOSOVO POLJE, Yugoslavia, June 28—A military band and a dozen chanting monks from the Serbian Orthodox Church struggled unsuccessfully this morning to lift the dour mood hanging over a small crowd of Serbs marking the 609th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo here at the most revered site in Serbia's nationalist mythology.

    With ethnic Albanian guerrillas dug into military positions roughly five miles away, southwest of the provincial capital of Pristina, several local Serbian officials read angry speeches denouncing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

    They said he has pursued ruinous policies that could provoke Kosovo's eventual surrender to ethnic Albanians and the exodus of all remaining Serbs. Kosovo is a province of Serbia, the dominant region of Yugoslavia.

    Nine years ago today, Milosevic's fiery speech here to a million angry Serbs was a rallying cry for nationalism and boosted his popularity enough to make him the country's uncontested leader.

    Soon afterward, Milosevic ordered that virtually all ethnic Albanians -- roughly 90 percent of Kosovo's population -- be fired from most public sector jobs. His action stirred deep resentment and helped spur Kosovo's Albanians to pursue a policy of rigid separatism.

    Lately, their anger has found expression in attacks against Serbs by the Kosovo Liberation Army, a group demanding Kosovo's independence from Yugoslavia. Several Serbs at today's ceremony said the guerrilla group's popularity and recent military gains had discouraged a larger crowd.

    Serbs cherish Kosovo as the cradle of their Orthodox Christian religion and culture, including their national myth, which revolves around the June 28, 1389, battle at Kosovo Polje -- the Field of Blackbirds. Serbs date the decline of their medieval power and splendor from that day's defeat of Serbia's Prince Lazar, followed by half a millennium of Turkish rule.

    Meanwhile, fighting between guerrillas and Serbian military forces continued today in a handful of towns and villages near the Albanian border and in the central region of Kosovo.

    Special correspondent Colin Soloway contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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