Two Albanian boys whose drowning deaths sparked Kosovo's worst interethnic fighting since the war ended in 1999 have been buried amid tight security. Additional NATO-led troops were on standby during the funerals in the village of Cabra, about 40 kilometers north of the provincial capital, Pristina. The funerals were held in Serbia's troubled province of Kosovo Sunday following a week of violence which left at least 28 people dead and 600 injured. In an effort to prevent further bloodshed, NATO-led peacekeepers in full riot gear and backed by armored personnel carriers provided security.
Thousands of Kosovars attended the funeral procession as the boys' bodies were transported through the village in open caskets to allow residents a final farewell.
The funerals came as Serbia declared a day of mourning for all victims of the violence. Kosovo planned a similar day of mourning for Monday.
Before Sunday's funerals, Serbia's minister of human rights, Rasim Ljajic, told journalists that the bloodshed shows the idea of a multi-ethnic Kosovo was "definitively buried" and "now belongs to history."
Mr. Ljajic's reference was to the ethnic nature of the violence that saw at least 16 Serbian Orthodox churches burned and more than 100 homes of Kosovo's minority Serbs destroyed by Albanians, who form the majority in the province.
Thousands of Serbs have fled their enclaves with the help of NATO, which send additional forces to the region to deal with what has been called Kosovo's most serious ethnic clashes since the war ended in 1999.
Kosovo's new violence initially erupted in the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica, where the two ethnic Albanian boys who were buried Sunday drowned in the Ibar River. They were reportedly forced to jump into the river after being chased by Serbs in what was seen as a revenge attack for a shooting near Mitrovica, in which a Serbian teenager was injured.
Serbia has criticized NATO and the international community for not doing enough to prevent the bloodshed. But speaking at a Bratislava summit on NATO and European Union enlargement, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer denied that the alliance was to blame for the crisis.
Mr. de Hoop Scheffer insisted that responsibility is in the first place with the communities in Kosovo. But he also said NATO will remain there in strength, to protect everyone living there, from both communities.