KFOR sees escalation in violence by Serbia boundary

PRISTINA, Aug 3, 2000 -- (Reuters) Ethnic Albanian guerrillas have exchanged gun and mortar fire with police as violence grows in an area of Serbia near Kosovo, NATO said on Wednesday.

KFOR spokesman Craig Snow said the armed Albanian group - known as the Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac Liberation Army (UCPMB in Albanian) - had conducted "harassment operations" against local Serbian interior ministry police (MUP) units.

"Specifically there have been exchanges of mortar and small arms fire," he told a regular press briefing.

He said the UCPMB - named after three towns in government-controlled Serbia - had improved its defensive positions around Dobrosin, an Albanian village on the Serbian side of the boundary where the group is believed to be based.

For its part, the MUP had extended its trench positions and checkpoints in an area around the nearby ethnic Albanian village of Konculj, also by Serbia's western boundary with Kosovo.

Both villages are located in a five-km (three-mile) buffer zone between territory controlled by the Yugoslav army and Kosovo province, where tens of thousands of NATO-led troops are based. Only Serb police are allowed to patrol there.

The area of southern Serbia adjoining Kosovo has seen an upsurge in violent incidents since the withdrawal last summer of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo following 78 days of NATO air strikes over Belgrade's repression of the province's Albanians.


Local Albanians in Serbia's Presevo Valley say members of the "liberation army", which has pledged to defend the ethnic Albanian population in the region, were first seen in January at a funeral of two woodcutter brothers killed by Serbian police.

KFOR announced last Sunday that it was stepping up security along Kosovo's eastern boundary due to an increase in violence in the valley, which has a large Albanian population.

It said it was increasing foot and mobile patrols, aerial surveillance as well as security checks at boundary crossings.

"KFOR has increased security measures in order to monitor the situation and to prevent these incidents spilling over into or originating from Kosovo in the future," Snow said.

KFOR did not recognize or support the UCPMB, he said.

"The aim of KFOR's efforts opposite Dobrosin is to prevent the situation escalating into a crisis that would destabilize and negate the progress made in Kosovo since the end of the conflict," Snow said.

Around 50 incidents have been registered along the boundary over the past year, according to recent figures published by independent Serb media. Around 15 people, mostly Albanians, were killed. More than 20 were wounded, including many police.

Serbian authorities have accused the guerrillas, who they denounce as "Albanian terrorists", of repeatedly attacking police checkpoints near the Kosovo boundary.

Local Albanians in Dobrosin reject such allegations, saying the guerrillas only act in defense of their home village.

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