Riot police turned back without incident about 2,000 women marching to a troubled region of Kosovo province Monday, intervening for the first time in more than a week of pro-independence protests by Kosovo Albanians.
Clutching long, white loaves of bread, the marchers - from teen-agers to women over 50 years old - set off from Kosovo's capital, Pristina, in a column stretching nearly a mile. The women carried signs saying "Stop Genocide!" and "We are a nation in danger!"Men lining the dilapidated roads cheered the women on.
They planned to march 30 miles to the Drenica region, where ethnic Albanians say more than 80 of their kin died in violent sweeps by Serb police this month that raised fears of a new war in the Balkans.
Kosovo is part of Serbia, the largest republic remaining in Yugoslavia. Most Serbs treasure Kosovo as the cradle of their culture and Orthodox religion, though ethnic Albanians make up 90 percent of its 2 million people.
About 30 police with shields, helmets and masks blocked the road and stopped the women four miles west of Pristina. The women dispersed, saying they were going home.
Also Monday, a high-ranking Serbian delegation came from Belgrade for the third time in five days to meet with the Albanians, who refused - again - to negotiate.
The Serbs say talks with ethnic Albanians could lead to resumed autonomy for Kosovo, which Yugoslav President Slobodan Mi-lo-sev-ic revoked in 1989, when he was Serbian president.
Serbia has ruled Kosovo with a heavy hand ever since, using a menacing police and army presence to control the Albanians.
Monday's invitation to a broad range of ethnic Albanian leaders was the Serbs' most open offer since 1989.
But Kosovo's Albanians hope they can turn world attention and sympathy into support for their goal of independence from Serbia - not just autonomy.