Belgrade daily says Bin Laden in Kosovo

BELGRADE, Apr 28, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Yugoslav government newspaper said on Thursday that Saudi exile Osama bin Laden was in Kosovo preparing to launch attacks in a mainly ethnic Albanian area in southern Serbia.

"Notorious Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden...has found a new refuge in the Balkans, in Kosovo, the nest of European terrorism, after years of hiding in Afghanistan," the Borba daily said.

A U.S. official, on condition of anonymity, dismissed the Yugoslav newspaper report, saying: "It's totally without foundation, it is baseless." The United States believes bin Laden is still in Afghanistan.

The Borba daily said bin Laden had arrived in Kosovo from neighboring Albania and that he had trained a group of nearly 500 mujahideen (Islamic guerrillas) from Arab countries.

"The group is only a quarter of the planned number of extremists whose task it is to launch a new wave of violence in southern Serbia in the area of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja," Borba said, without giving further details.

In Kosovo, a spokesman for the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force, Maj. Frank Benjaminsen, said when asked about the report: "I've heard nothing about this."

The mainly ethnic Albanian area east of Kosovo has seen an upsurge in violence since Yugoslav forces pulled out of Kosovo following last year's 11-week NATO bombing over Yugoslavia's repression of the province's ethnic Albanians.

An armed group pledging to defend the region's ethnic Albanian population and based in the Serbian village of Dobrosin has emerged in the past few months and appears to have been involved in several clashes with local Serb security forces.

The Yugoslav leadership has insisted the trouble in the area was fomented from Kosovo and has blamed international forces in control of the province of being unable to keep peace.

The West has said it would not tolerate any spread of violence to Serbia.

Bin Laden is wanted by the United States, which accuses him of being behind the bomb attacks on two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 which killed more than 200 people.

Original article