Albanians attacked within sight of American troops

By Raymond Whitaker

5 March 2000

Serbian security forces attacked the village of Dobrosin in southern Serbia within sight of American peace-keepers in Kosovo early yesterday, just days after ethnic Albanian guerrillas in the village told the Independent on Sunday that they had formed a new movement to defend themselves.

Shooting began shortly after midnight, and for more than two hours there were sustained periods of gunfire in Dobrosin, a spokesman for the Nato-led peace-keepers, K-For, said in the Kosovan capital of Pristina. About 175 Albanian women, children and older men fled over the border into neighbouring Kosovo.

"At the moment we are assessing that the contact on the Serb side was local police," said the K-For spokesman. Under the agreement, which ended the Nato bombing campaign against Serbia last year, army units and heavy weapons are not permitted within five kilometres of Kosovo's border, but Serbian police units, some of which are heavily armed and equipped with armoured personnel carriers, may operate in the zone.

Tension has been rising in southern Serbia, on Kosovo's eastern border, for several weeks. The Belgrade government has accused K-For of allowing Albanian extremists to infiltrate the region, where Albanians are in the majority, and police reinforcements were reported to have been sent to the south. But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that about 6,000 Albanians had fled into Kosovo from Serbia in recent days, complaining of intimidation. The new guerrilla movement calls itself the UCPMB, the Albanian initials for the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medveda and Bujanovac, three districts in southern Serbia where some 70,000 Albanians far outnumber Serbs. It is clearly modelled on the Kosovo Liberation Army – its red and gold badge, with a double-headed Albanian eagle, is almost identical to the KLA's – and nearly all the dozen or so fighters seen in Dobrosin said they had been in the KLA.

There are fears that Albanian extremists are seeking to provoke a new confrontation between Serbia and Nato forces, with the aim of joining southern Serbia's Albanian-majority areas on to Kosovo. But the UCPMB leader in Dobrosin, who refused to give his name, said last week that the movement had sprung up in self-defence against Serbian intimidation. "We are not seeking to provoke them," he said, "but if attacked we will meet fire with fire."

In response to a spate of recent incidents, including the killing of two woodcutters in Dobrosin by Serbian police in January, and armed clashes near Bujanovac last weekend in which a Serbian policemen and an Albanian gunman were killed, the Americans have moved forces up to the border, and in the past two weeks have built a fortified observation post which overlooks Dobrosin. But the local commander, Colonel Jeff Snow, warned the UCPMB in a recent meeting that K-For would not intervene in fighting outside Kosovo.

Last week the guerrillas were nervous, warning that "the Serbs could come here at any time". It appears that the recent publicity given to the UCPMB was a provocation that Belgrade could not ignore, bringing retribution down on Dobrosin and the few civilians still remaining there.

Original article