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Violence Erupts in Ethnic Albanian Areas Near Kosovo

Yugoslavia: NATO sends a team to the front lines in an attempt to stem the latest unrest.

March 01, 2001|From Associated Press

BUJANOVAC, Yugoslavia — Heavy shooting erupted in two ethnic Albanian areas just outside Kosovo on Wednesday, as NATO dispatched a team to one of the front lines in hopes of curbing new violence in the Balkans.

The fighting broke out in southern Serbia and northern Macedonia--volatile regions bordering Kosovo where ethnic Albanian rebels have taken up arms against government forces.

Though separated by borders, the conflicts appear similar--both sparked by insurgents in heavily ethnic Albanian areas in the apparent hope of joining the areas with Kosovo as part of an ultimate goal of independence.

Serbian troops and Albanian militants clashed only hours ahead of scheduled talks with North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials on the possible narrowing of a southern Serbian buffer zone with Kosovo where the rebels have taken up positions.

At least one Serbian policeman was wounded by shrapnel. Residents in Bujanovac, a Serbian town outside the zone, gathered in the streets in panic as mortar fire and machine-gun bursts echoed in the distance.

In Macedonia, state television reported that the ethnic Albanian rebels in the border village of Tanusevci opened fire on the army and police. The security forces returned fire. No injuries were reported. A Macedonian border checkpoint was also targeted by an antitank rocket that missed, state radio said, without giving details.

Across the border, in the Kosovo village of Debelde, reporters heard the shooting and saw about a dozen ethnic Albanian rebels running across the mountainside.

The latest upsurge in fighting around Kosovo has raised fears of another major crisis that could threaten the region, less than two years after NATO and the United Nations moved into Kosovo in the wake of a pullout of troops loyal to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

In Brussels on Tuesday, the NATO allies urged ethnic Albanians and Serbs to begin direct talks.

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