Serbs and Ethnic Albanians clash on flashpoint frontier

SAPPER FRONTIER POST, May 26, 2000 -- (AFP) Ethnic Albanian guerrillas this week fought three battles with Serb forces in a demilitarized security zone in southern Serbia near the Kosovo border, a US officer said Thursday.

Captain Erik McFadden, an officer with the NATO-lead peacekeeping force in Kosovo, said that members of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medveda and Bujanovac (UCPMB) had skirmished with Serbian forces in the five kilometer (three mile) wide security corridor between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia.

The UPCMB was named after three towns in southern Serbia which have majority ethnic Albanian populations. It is based in the village of Dobrosin, which is in the security zone around 100 meters (yards) from the Kosovo border.

McFadden, who commands the US army's Sapper Frontier Post overlooking the security zone, said his troops had heard mortar shell explosions and automatic fire every day since Monday.

He said there appeared to have been between two and three five-minute clashes every day, but that no ethnic Albanian fighters had presented themselves at his border post to request hospital treatment in Kosovo.

The UPCMB, which is thought to count some 100 men, began military maneuvers a week ago, the captain said. No firing had been heard Thursday by 0930 GMT.

On Wednesday, Serb sources in Bujanovac said that a Serbian police post had twice come under mortar fire, but that no-one had been injured and no damage caused.

Under the terms of a military-technical agreement signed between Belgrade and NATO in June last year, all military forces are banned from the security zone along the Kosovo frontier, where only Serbia police are allowed to operate.

The UPCMB first appeared in public in January in the security zone, near the US controlled sector of Kosovo, claiming to represent the 70,000 ethnic Albanians living in southern Serbia's Presevo Valley.

NATO leaders have repeatedly asked the group to stand down its armed struggle, fearing that it could spark widespread ethnic violence and drag peacekeepers into conflict with Yugoslav forces.

Kosovo, a province of Yugoslavia, has been administered by the United Nations and occupied by an international peacekeeping force since a 78-day NATO bombing campaign forced Yugoslav forces to abandon their war against separatist guerrillas and quit the province last June.

Original article