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Kosovo in Day of Mourning After 28 Died in Riots Last Week - 2004-03-22

The ethnically divided province of Kosovo held an official day of mourning Monday, after riots last week that left at least 28 people dead. Flags flew at half-mast across Kosovo and television played somber music as Monday's day of mourning got under way. The occasion was in memory of those killed in three days of clashes last week between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in the province.

The violence was the worst in Kosovo since the end of the 1999 NATO bombing campaign that drove Serbian forces out of the province. Since then, the province's 80,000-strong Serb minority has lived uneasily next to its 1.8 million Albanians.

But after rumors swept the province last week that Serbs had been involved in the deaths of two Albanian boys, Albanians attacked a number of Serb villages and churches.

Thousands of Serbs fled their homes and had their possessions looted in the uprising.

On Monday, the chief United Nations administrator for Kosovo, Harri Holkeri, visited a block of apartments in the capital, Pristina, which had been set ablaze and looted.

Mr. Holkeri repeated a promise that all Serb property would be rebuilt and that Serbs and Albanians would once again live side by side in Kosovo, where as the day progressed, there were no signs of renewed violence.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was also due to fly to Kosovo to tour the sites of the violence and inspect the deployment of thousands of reinforcements that were drafted in from across Europe as the violence intensified last week.

He insisted that Kosovar Albanians would not achieve their long-cherished aim of an independent Kosovo by cleansing ethnic Serbs from the province.

Nonetheless, while promising to fund reconstruction programs for displaced Serbs, Kosovo's Albanian President Ibrahim Rugova said that independence for Kosovo, which is still officially part of Serbia despite being run by the United Nations, was the only long-term solution for the province.