March 10, 2000Albanian guerillas in blatant control of village
(Rtr) - A patrol of armed men in fatigue uniforms moves through the village of Dobrasin, in Serbia, while only 200 meters (yards) away, US KFOR soldiers monitor the internal border between Serbia proper and Kosovo.
Five men in military clothes, with black helmets, guns on their shoulders, walk along a narrow street of the village, deep in a valley.
The badge on their jackets bears the insignia of the UCPMB, the Albanian acronym for the Presevo-Medvedja-Bujanovac Liberation Army, a reference to the three towns in southeastern Serbia, known by Kosovo Albanians as the "eastern Kosovo".
The group first appeared on January 26, at the funeral of two brothers from the village who were killed by Serbian police, according to their relatives.
The Presevo valley is home to an estimated 75,000 ethnic Albanians, although the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said 6,000 of them have fled to Kosovo since the end of NATO's air strikes on Yugoslavia last year.
The villagers advised reporters to wait for "authorisation" to get into Dobrasin.
There, two men in black uniforms, identical to those once worn by the military police of the now dismantled Kosovo Liberation army (KLA) told reporters access to Dobrosin was forbidden.
One is a former KLA fighter from the Nerodime region in southern Kosovo, between Usorevac and Prizren, with a KLA insignia visible on the handle of his pistol.
Just 200 metres (yards) away, US soldiers of the NATO-led peacekeeping force (KFOR) control a small checkpoint on the road leading to the village.
Each vehicle, even tractors, is carefully searched. US Apache helicopters monitor the border with Serbia.
According to the agreement signed last June between NATO and Belgrade, only local Serb police are allowed into the zone set up after NATO's air war on Yugoslavia.
"The UCPMB has no right to be there, but we can do nothing, we have no right to penetrate in this zone," US KFOR spokesman Ian Fitzgerald said.
Nevertheless, a villager said he had seen US soldiers "talking with soldiers" of the UCPMB in Dobrosin itself.
"There are relations between them, they get along well," Qazim Zahiri, 75, said.
Zahiri fled Dobrosin with his family after the death of the two brothers. Nowadays, he lives in the eastern Kosovo town of Gnjilane.
He said numerous people from the village, where some 150 families used to live, have fled.
Tension has risen since the arrival of the UCPMB in the village, he said.
The old man said the rebels' presence in Dobrosin was a good thing, "since the Serbian police can not get into the village as before."
Overnight Friday, Albanian witnesses reported clashes between the Serbian police and the UCPBM fighters in Dobrosin.
And a week ago, a UCPBM fighter and a Serb policeman were killed, while two policemen were injured in clashes in the village.