KFOR reports clash in village near Kosovo

ON THE KOSOVO BOUNDARY, Yugoslavia, Mar 5, 2000 -- (Reuters) Fighting erupted on Saturday between Serb police and a new ethnic Albanian armed group in a tense area of Serbia just outside eastern Kosovo, NATO-led peacekeepers quoted villagers as saying.

Serb police denied being in the village of Dobrosin when the shooting broke out. It was the latest of a series of clashes that have prompted some diplomats to see similarities with the pattern of violence that spurred NATO to intervene in Kosovo.

Inside the province, four Albanians were injured in fist fights with Serbs who set up a roadblock in the mainly Serb enclave of Gracanica after a Serb house was bombed. The divided town of Kosovo Mitrovica was calm after clashes on Friday.

The U.S. commander of KFOR peacekeepers in the border region said the shooting would not mean his troops would have to cross the border to defuse the situation.

U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Snow, commanding officer of the company running a new observation post overlooking Dobrosin from Kosovo, said the shooting broke out just after midnight.

"Sometime around 12.30 we did hear shots fired and shortly after...there were people that were in vehicles who moved back to this area," he said.


He said there were no reports of injuries but that about 100 people, mostly women and children, had fled in cars to Kosovo.

"It died down rather quickly," Snow said, adding that while his soldiers had seen members of the new armed Albanian group circulating on the outskirts of the village, he could not confirm villagers' accounts that Yugoslav interior ministry police, known by the acronym MUP, were involved.

A Serbian police official in the area told Reuters that machine-gun fire had been heard around 2 a.m. (0100 GMT).

"There were no police in the area today at all," he said.

Inside Kosovo, KFOR took advantage of calm in the divided northern town of Mitrovica to escort Serbs to graves in the Albanian part after a day of clashes over the return of 40 Albanians to their homes in the Serb part of the town.

But in Gracanica, the other main enclave where Serbs have gathered since NATO replaced Yugoslav security forces in Kosovo in June, tensions were high after a firebomb on a Serb house.

No one was hurt in the bombing but four Albanians were injured in fist fighting with Serbs who blockaded a major road and attacked several civilian cars with Albanian markings.

Snow denied that NATO supported the new armed Albanian group acting outside Kosovo, which has taken the name UCPMB from the Albanian for the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medveja and Bujanovaca, predominantly Albanian towns in the Presevo Valley area where Dobrosin is located.

"The UCPMB is telling folk that they have the support of KFOR, the United States, and I want to tell this particular audience that the United States, KFOR and the international community does not support an insurgency along the border," Snow told reporters being given a tour of Outpost Sapper.

"In fact we will do everything within our powers to prevent that insurgency from crossing over into this area of responsibility," he added.

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