More than 15,000 ethnic Albanians, many bearing candles and anti-police placards, marched Sunday to commemorate victims of a brutal Serb crackdown and press their demands for Kosovo's independence.

Buttressing public defiance of the authorities, ethnic Albanian political leaders again rejected a Serb offer of talks.Sunday's march - and other demonstrations the Albanians said were held across the southern Serb province - was the third anti-Serb protest in a week.

More are scheduled, with Albanian women planning to march 30 miles Monday to the Drenica region, the site of the Serbs' harsh sweep of several villages that left more than 80 people dead.

That security sweep ended a week ago, but animosities remain high, and prospects for a political solution to the crisis are murky.

Ethnic Albanians, 90 percent of the province's population of 2 million, are increasingly set on independence in the wake of the crack-down in the Drenica region, west of the provincial capital, Pristina.

The Serbs say it was an attempt to quash the Kosovo Liberation Army, which has launched deadly attacks on Serb police as part of its struggle for independence.

The crackdown started after an attack in which four Serb policemen were killed on Feb. 28. It was not clear whether Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who has been condemned by world leaders for the security sweep, in fact ordered it.

Milosevic had been warned repeatedly against such an action in Kosovo by the top U.S. envoy in the region, Robert Gelbard.

On Sunday, Yugoslav state-run media launched a blistering attack on Washington, accusing the United States of "siding with Albanian separatism and terrorism" in Kosovo.

A Belgrade Radio commentary, also carried by the official Tanjung news agency, claimed that "strings of separatism and terrorism" in Kosovo "are pulled by Western countries' intelligence services, i.e. by NATO."

"The West is ready to make a pact with the black devil himself, if this is directed against Serbia and Yugoslavia," the commentary said.

The marchers Sunday wound their way to a small Roman Catholic church, joining up with more than 1,000 people attending a Mass for those slain in Drenica. Those inside hoisted pictures of Albanian native Mother Teresa, while worshippers outside raised hands in the V-for-victory sign.

"We are here to pray for the freedom of Kosovo and of our people," said the priest, Shan Zefi. "We are witness to a lot of killings and misdeeds - the killings of women, children and the elderly."

"We hope that one day freedom will come," he said. "Albanians all want their independence."

The Serbs say talks could lead to a resumption of autonomy for Kosovo, which Milosevic, as then-Serb president, revoked in 1989.

A high-ranking Serb delegation, which came from Belgrade twice last week in a vain attempt to meet with the Albanians, was expected in Pristina again today.