ROBERT H. REIDWinds fuel fires in Kosovo
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (July 9, 2000) - Flames fanned by wind gusts swept Sunday over hills parched by the recent Balkan heat wave, burning some houses in Kosovo and setting off unexploded ordnance left over from last year's conflict here.
NATO spokesman Maj. Scott Slaten reported fires in four of Kosovo's five military sectors, including one blaze which destroyed houses near Planeja in southern Kosovo. Residents in several areas were evacuated.
Slaten said ethnic Albanian and international firefighters were hampered by the large number of land mines and unexploded ordnance. The explosives were left behind after the conflict in this southern Serbian province, which ended in June 1999 when Yugoslav forces withdrew following the 78-day NATO air campaign.
"We can't send in our guys until we know that the fire has cleared through the minefield," Slaten said.
In the Planeja area, fires triggered several explosions from leftover ordnance, a NATO statement said.
Most of the blazes had been contained by late Sunday, although one was threatening a Kosovo Liberation Army cemetery near Landovica, NATO said. Following record-setting temperatures and no rain, Kosovo's hardscrabble hills are a tinderbox, and the danger of further fires remains high.
"There's a lot of trash scattered in the countryside, and 90 percent of the population smokes," Slaten said. "All it takes is one cigarette."
Meanwhile, police were questioning witnesses in the Friday shooting of politician Ramush Haradinaj, who was wounded in a pre-dawn encounter with the family of a man named Sadik Musa. Musa's family is linked to Haradinaj's political rivals in the western village of Streoce.
Haradinaj was taken Friday afternoon to the U.S. military hospital at Camp Bondsteel in eastern Kosovo. NATO said Sunday he was later flown to the U.S. military hospital at Landstuhl, Germany.
The case is politically explosive because it raises the specter of armed clashes among ethnic Albanian political factions in advance of local elections in October. Western Kosovo is known as a smuggling center where clans and political groups are competing for power.
NATO has refused to release details of the incident pending completion of an investigation. Haradinaj's followers claim the Musa family opened fire when Haradinaj, his brother Daut Haradinaj and others went to the house to discuss their differences.
Musa told The Associated Press that Haradinaj's men fired on his house and threatened him before he managed to grab a grenade and throw it at Haradinaj.
"Who comes to your house in the middle of the night with armed men who start shooting to have a dialogue?" Musa asked.