Murder of a mediator fanned flames of genocide
 The Sunday Times, April 4 1999               

 The life and death of Bogoljug Staletovic went
 largely unnoticed amid the broader calamities  
 of the Kosovo crisis last week. Yet the ambush
 that killed a popular Serbian police commander 
 a month ago may turn out to have been one of
 the key turning points in a complicated
 regional ethnic conflict that has suddenly     
 exploded into a full-scale Balkan tragedy.
 His is the story of a 31-year-old Serb whose   
 even-handed approach in the southern Kosovo
 town of Kachanik had earned him admirers among 
 all the local ethnic groups.                   
 According to Macedonian sources in Skopje,
 Staletovic regarded himself as a friend of     
 prominent Albanians in Kachanik and would      
 often visit their homes. The only big town on
 the Kosovo highway between Skopje and
 Pristina, Kachanik was well known to passing
 Macedonian businessmen, one of whom, a
 mechanical engineer, commuted to work in the

 "When the peace talks were going on, both
 sides, Serbs and Albanians, were afraid of
 what the other might do in Kachanik," the
 engineer said last week. "Staletovic was
 trying to persuade his friends in both groups
 not to get angry with each other. Nobody
 wanted trouble. This part of Kosovo always had
 a peaceful life."

 Yet on Sunday, February 28, a Kosovo
 Liberation Army (KLA) unit ambushed the chief
 as he visited a police station in the nearby
 village of Gajre. The Albanians opened up with
 mortars, rocket-launchers and machine guns.
 Staletovic was killed instantly; four of his
 men were seriously wounded.

 The chief was buried in his home village of
 Berezovce two days later, wearing his blue
 camouflage uniform. A funeral procession was
 followed by 7,000 mourners. "Albanians also
 felt sorry he died," said the Macedonian
 engineer. Refugees who later arrived from the
 region confirmed that their trouble with the
 police had started the day Staletovic died.

 Leaders of the Serbian minority party in
 Macedonia last week claimed that for weeks
 before the final breakdown of the Rambouillet
 peace process, KLA leaders had embarked on a
 calculated cam paign of assassination and
 assaults on police in the hope of provoking a
 Serbian reaction that would hasten Nato
 intervention in Kosovo. Serbian leaders in
 Belgrade also complain that the West has
 chosen to overlook the provocative actions of
 an Albanian guerrilla army whose tactics seem
 closer to terrorist outfits than to orthodox
 military units.

 Between February 25 and the day Nato's bombing
 started on March 24, the Yugoslavian foreign
 ministry reported 71 KLA attacks on Serbian
 policemen or other police targets. While few
 of the attacks could be independently
 confirmed, the Serbs are furious that KLA
 claims of Serbian atrocities are being seized
 upon by Nato spokesmen while the KLA's earlier
 campaign of alleged "terrorist provocation"
 has been conveniently ignored.

 At the Skopje offices of the Serbian
 Democratic party last week, Malasa Bozovic,
 the party's general secretary, mourned what he
 described as a "loss of reason" in the Nato
 alliance, particularly in Britain and France,
 which had counted Serbia as an ally in the
 first world war fight against Germany.

 "We are very sorry the English have swallowed
 the American propaganda," Bozovic said. "In
 Skopje there are English and French cemeteries
 from the time we fought together on the
 Salonika front (1915-18). Now you are dropping
 bombs on Serbia. I think in the English
 cemetery your soldiers must be turning in
 their graves."

 There is no sign of disturbance at the English
 war graves behind the Orthodox Church of St
 Michael, but the gates of the French war
 cemetery have been defaced with the words
 "Jack Chirack" (sic) and a swastika.

 It now seems clear from the scale of the
 Kosovo exodus that not even Staletovic's
 diplomatic skills could have saved the
 residents of Kachanik from expulsion to
 Macedonia. Yet questions seem certain to be
 asked about the extent to which the KLA's
 reckless campaign of assassination and assault
 provoked Serbian forces into seeking bloody
 revenge. By the time Nato's air campaign
 started, many Serbian units had been goaded
 into all-consuming hatred of Albanians.

 As for Staletovic's patient construction of
 communal harmony in Kachanik, refugees fleeing
 the town last week reported that Serbian units
 were targeting any Albanian men who looked the
 right age to be KLA fighters. There were
 reports of corpses in the street and of a
 group of 100 men being marched into the local
 police station. They have apparently not been
 seen since.

 What exactly was the KLA up to when it started
 attacking police units, knowing Serbian forces
 would retaliate, almost certainly against
 civilians? In Skopje last week, Balkan
 conspiracy theorists were in overdrive. The
 KLA knew it could never win control of Kosovo
 without Nato military intervention and wanted
 to sabotage any peace deal, said some sources.
 The more it could provoke Serbian forces into
 vicious retaliation against civilians, the
 sooner Nato bombs would begin to fall. The
 greater the refugee exodus, the better the
 chance that Nato ground troops would invade to
 create an Albanian homeland - to be run by the

 None of this came as much consolation to
 Slobodanka Staletovic, the murdered police
 commander's mother. She wept over her son's
 coffin last month, and has watched all his
 work come undone.

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