Yugoslav troops killed 23 ethnic Albanian militants in the latest offensive against separatists in the province of Kosovo, the Yugoslav army said Friday.
An army statement said two other militants were captured and a "considerable quantity" of weapons and ammunition seized when the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army fought with about 200 "ethnic Albanian terrorists" near the border with Albania.The new toll combined the 16 killed Thursday and reported earlier with seven killed on Wednesday when the unrest started.
The clash - along with a referendum in which Serbs voted overwhelmingly against foreign mediation in the crisis - heightened tensions in Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs 9-to-1. Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia, is determined to quash rising indepen-dence sentiment in the southern province.
The West has threatened to impose sanctions unless talks begin. Kosovo Albanians refuse to start negotiations without international mediation.
Final referendum results released today showed 95 percent of voters oppose outside mediation in talks on the province's future.
The state electoral commission said turnout in Thursday's referendum was 73 percent. The voters were largely Serb, as ethnic Albanians boycotted the ballot.
According to the army statement, the captured Albanians said they had been on weapons training in Albania, which has denied actively supporting the independence struggle in Kosovo.
"All evidence indicates that this was an organized ethnic Albanian terrorist operation, carried out in collusion with the authorities of Albania," it said. "A mopping-up operation is in progress."
The toll was the highest since a sweep by Serbian police in early March killed more than 80 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, including children.
Ethnic Albanian villagers in Batusa, in a border area with neighboring Albania, said Thursday that they heard artillery fire for most of the night and saw helicopters flying overhead.
In Albania, lawmaker Azem Hajdari told the Beta news agency in Belgrade today that the air force was put on alert on Thursday after Yugoslav war planes briefly violated his country's airspace.