Increased fighting between rebels and YU forces
DOBROSIN, Jul 28, 2000 -- (AFP) Fighting in southern Serbia between Yugoslavian security forces and ethnic Albanian separatists has intensified in the past week, U.S. troops stationed nearby told AFP Thursday.
The commander of the KFOR peacekeeping force's Outpost Sapper, Captain Tom Hairgrove, said that his troops had heard automatic gunfire and explosions from over the administrative border in Serbia proper near the village of Dobrosin on two nights this week.
As he spoke, his troops were reinforcing the fortifications surrounding the checkpoint they man on the narrow country road between Gnjilane in Kosovo and Dobrosin with extra razor wire and barricades packed with soil and rocks.
Dobrosin is in a pocket of Serbia controlled by the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac (UPCMB), an ethnic Albanian guerilla force fighting to separate the Presevo valley area and its 70,000-strong Albanian majority from Yugoslavia.
Guerrillas in the village confirmed to AFP Thursday that there had been recent fighting in the area but refused to discuss details.
"We have heard bursts of automatic gunfire and explosions, probably mortars. There's definitely something going on," Hairgrove said.
KFOR sources said that the increased activity around Dobrosin in the five-kilometer (three-mile) -wide Ground Safety Zone, a demilitarized strip of land between UN-administered Kosovo and Serbia proper, was a matter of concern.
The zone was set up under the Military Technical Agreement signed between NATO and Yugoslavia in June last year to regulate the withdrawal of Belgrade's forces from the disputed province.
Under the agreement, the Yugoslavian army is barred from entering the zone, although Belgrade's well-armed interior ministry paramilitary police force does patrol there and sometimes clashes with the rebels.
The UPCMB guerrillas move around openly in Dobrosin, where they are clearly in charge. They are well armed with good quality Yugoslavian manufactured Kalashnikov assault rifles and a variety of pistols, grenades and sub-machine guns.
U.S. soldiers stationed 200 meters (yards) from the village estimate their strength in Dobrosin at any one time to be around 60.
KFOR patrols keep a close eye on the frontier to try and prevent arms being smuggled to the rebel group, which is thought to have close links with ethnic Albanian militants in Kosovo.
One of the rebels met by AFP was wearing the uniform of the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), the civilian successor of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The man, who was unarmed, wore the shoulder flash of the group's Second Region, that operating in the north of Kosovo near Kosovska Mitrovica.
The KPC, which is commanded by former KLA leaders, was set up as a civilian disaster relief force and receives funding from international donors including the United States and the European Union.
Other rebels wore a variety of camouflage or black fatigues emblazoned with the red, black and gold UPCMB badge, itself very similar to those worn by the KLA and KPC.
From the hill above Dobrosin, a small farming community huddled around a tiny mosque, six-man UPCMB patrols can be seen strung out along dirt tracks into the hills around the village.
KFOR has repeatedly warned the UPCMB that they will not allow their troops to be drawn into fighting in the Ground Safety Zone or further inside Serbia.