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Fierce clashes on Kosovo border

Ethnic Albanian rebel
Ethnic Albanian rebels used the buffer zone as a safe haven  

BUJANOVAC, Yugoslavia -- Fighting has intensified between Yugoslav troops and Albanian separatist rebels near the Kosovo border in southern Serbia.

A battle raged in the village of Oreovica, just outside the internationally-policed buffer zone established around Kosovo in June 1999.

Yugoslav security forces said they had surrounded a group of guerillas in the village and ordered them to lay down their weapons.

A commander with the separatist Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac (UCPMB), however, said: "A large number of Serb soldiers are inside the village, totally surrounded."

At least two ethnic Albanians are reported killed in the violence, both hit by sniper fire, although there is some confusion as to their identities.

Sejdullah Kadriu, a rebel spokesman, said that both victims were Albanian guerilla fighters.

Another ethnic Albanian spokesman however, named only as Profi, told the Associated Press on Monday that one of the victims was a civilian.

Two civilians were also reported injured in the clashes.

Elsewhere three Yugoslav army soldiers were wounded in fierce fighting further north near the town of Vranje in the Presevo Valley.

The current round of violence began on Saturday as Albanian rebels tried to sabotage the proposed transfer by Nato of buffer zone territory -- the so-called Sector B of the buffer zone -- to Serb police.

The five-kilometre (three-mile) wide buffer zone was established after NATO's 1999 bombing campaign forced Yugoslav and Serb forces out of Kosovo to create the so-called buffer zone.

Ethnic Albanian rebels moved into the area, using it as a safe haven.

The Yugoslav army has now entered 80 percent of the zone, leaving the most sensitive ethnic area to be occupied.

General Nebojsa Pavkovic, head of the Yugoslav army, said in an interview on local television on Sunday that the planned return of his troops to the remaining zone will be complicated militarily as the main rebel strongholds are in the area.

In a separate development European Union foreign ministers condemned the continuing violence in the region, urging both Serb and Albanian leaders to work to reduce tension along the Serb-Kosovan border.

The council of ministers, meeting in Brussels, "expressed its concern about the ongoing serious violations of the cease-fire and the lack of sufficient progress in the dialogue between the Serb authorities and the ethnic Albanian representatives in Southern Serbia."



RELATED STORIES:
NATO reduces buffer zone
April 10, 2001
Peacekeepers kill Serb
May 7, 2001

RELATED SITES:
NATO in Kosovo
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

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