Kosovo-Serb border may be nurturing new rebels

By Michael Roddy

ON THE KOSOVO BOUNDARY, Mar 2, 2000 -- (Reuters) An area along Kosovo's eastern boundary with Serbia, near where a U.N. worker was wounded by unknown gunmen, may be nurturing a new ethnic Albanian rebel movement, villagers said on Wednesday.

Residents in an area east of the Kosovo town of Gnjilane, mostly in a 5-km (3-mile) wide, military-free buffer zone between Serbia and its province of Kosovo, say they have seen armed men with insignia.

The area is now run by the United Nations and NATO,

"We have seen people wearing insignia," said Naim Rashiti, 25, who lives in Dobrosin, an ethnic Albanian town inside the buffer zone, some 200 m (yards) from a new American observation post of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force.

The so-called "Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac" (UCPMB in Albanian) wants to protect the three towns, which are in Serbia but have majority Albanian population.

But published reports say it also may want to wrest from Serbia an area that some militants are calling "eastern Kosovo".

The ethnic Albanian daily newspaper Zeri said a man claiming to be the commander of the UCPMB said the fighters did not want to stay in hiding anymore and had decided to go public after two woodcutters were killed by Serb police in Dobrosin in January.

None of the new ethnic-Albanian "liberation army" fighters were in evidence on Wednesday and the area was calm. American soldiers at Pogradje, the last checkpoint before Serbia, and at a new observation post right at the boundary, said they had not seen them.

If any fighters had come by the observation post "they were not in uniform", said U.S. Captain Eric McFadden of the NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping force. He is officer in charge of the observation post that has been in operation for about two weeks.

The post saw some intense activity on Tuesday when an Irishman working for the United Nations, Marcel Grogan, was wounded just outside the buffer zone, in Serbia near Bujanovac.

Grogan was evacuated by helicopter to the big U.S. Bondsteel military camp in Kosovo from the observation post after he and a Russian colleague managed to drive there after he was wounded, military sources said.

Villagers Fear Attacks

Villagers inside the boundary said they feared for their lives and hundreds have fled since an attack by Serb police in January. They said only the American presence nearby makes them stay.

"The Serbs are trying to make all the Albanians flee here," said Aziz Sulejmani, 57, who lives in Dobrosin.

The village is mostly deserted, except for the west side near the U.S. post, villagers said.

The identities of Grogan's assailants were unknown. But residents of Dobrosin said his vehicle was the first to use the road from Bujanovac through Dobrosin to the Kosovo boundary since Yugoslav Interior Ministry police, known as MUP, swooped down on the village in January.

Villagers say the MUP police killed two brothers, Isa Saqipi, 36 and Shaip, 32, who were woodcutters. Their graves, decorated with wreaths with Albanian inscriptions, are side by side in a small graveyard about 250 meters (yards) from the American post.

None of several Dobrosin villagers interviewed admitted to being members of a new liberation force.

But some said that ethnic Albanians needed to organize to defend themselves from the Serbs.

"We have to defend ourselves 2000 percent," Sulejmani said. "I do not want to flee my land."

Original article