Archive for Saturday, March 10, 2001

Albanians launch two-front attacks

March 10, 2001

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— Ethnic Albanian rebels launched strong attacks on two fronts Friday, defying NATO and American attempts to curb the growing crisis around Kosovo's borders.

In the first attack, rebels including some believed to have come from Kosovo attacked Macedonian forces in Brest, trapping about 100 officials, including a deputy interior minister, in the northern town.

The attack prompted Macedonia to close its border with Kosovo, cutting off the main supply route for the province's 2 million people.

Elsewhere, insurgents using mortars and automatic weapons attacked Yugoslav police in Lucane, located in the Presevo Valley of southern Serbia, Yugoslavia's main republic, killing one policeman and wounding three, Serbian authorities said.

Thundering explosions could be heard in towns several miles from the fighting, which was the heaviest in weeks, as the Yugoslav army used artillery against the insurgents.

The two attacks heightened concern that U.S. and other NATO-led peacekeepers could be drawn into a new Balkan conflict in the mountainous region outside Kosovo's southern boundary.

At the U.S. State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said "we strongly condemn the continued violence by ethnic Albanian extremists."

Despite the violence, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson insisted that the alliance was capable of containing the crisis.

"There is obviously tension in the area, but NATO is moving very strongly to handle that," Robertson told reporters in Washington. "We intend to see that it doesn't spill over."

Macedonian police spokesman Stevo Pendarovski said the convoy was touring northern Macedonia to assure residents that the government was in control of the area after ethnic Albanian rebels evacuated their stronghold in the village of Tanusevci on the Kosovo border about four miles north of Brest.

Pendarovski said the insurgents were part of the group that evacuated Tanusevci as well as reinforcements from Kosovo.

On Thursday, American peacekeepers took positions on the Kosovo side of the border at Tanusevci to try to prevent weapons and fighters from infiltrating into Macedonia.

The U.S. move into Tanusevci was part of a two-pronged Western strategy to curb an ethnic Albanian rebellion along the borders of Kosovo, which has been under U.N. and NATO control since June 1999.

In the second step, NATO agreed Thursday to allow Yugoslav forces into the buffer zone dividing Kosovo from the rest of Serbia to stop weapons traffic between Macedonia and the Presevo Valley.

That could set the stage for another armed confrontation between Serb and ethnic Albanian forces less two years after NATO-led peacekeepers entered Kosovo to stop then Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on separatists.

Prospects for such a confrontation increased Friday when the commander of the Kosovo peacekeeping force, Italian Lt. Gen. Carlo Cabigiosu, failed to persuade a rebel commander to allow Yugoslav forces into the buffer zone.

During a meeting Friday in the zone, rebel chieftain Shefket Musliu warned his guerrillas would "fight to the last man" to prevent Yugoslav soldiers from taking up positions in the buffer region.

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