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Yugoslav forces recapture village

Ethnic Albanian rebels
Ethnic Albanian rebels withdrew from the village  

ORAOVICA, Yugoslavia -- Ethnic Albanian rebels have been driven from a village near the southern border between Serbia and Kosovo, the Yugoslav army has said.

The Yugoslav army commander in the volatile Presevo Valley said the rebels had left Oraovica, retreating into a buffer zone around Kosovo after Yugoslav security forces launched a swift offensive.

"We have opened up a corridor and given them room to withdraw toward Kosovo to avoid the worst -- casualties among the civilians," Yugoslav General Ninoslav Krstic told Reuters.

A rebel commander confirmed to reporters by telephone the rebels had pulled out.

"We had two dead today and we had no choice but to withdraw," said the commander, known as Profi.

He told Kosovo's Radio-TV 21 television station that five fighters had been killed in Oraovica since the rebels captured the village on Saturday.

Yugoslav troops staffed checkpoints around the village, and broken windows were evidence of house-to-house fighting, with the streets were mainly deserted, Reuters reported.

During the fighting, mortar bombs landed in nearby Presevo.

"I heard the mortar whiz over my head," said Enver Memeti, an Albanian who found a bomb in his front yard.

By nightfall, the rebels had retreated to strongholds just outside the Kosovo boundary.

The rebels have seized some territory in the three-mile (five-kilometre)-wide buffer zone that separates Kosovo and the rest of Serbia.

There were fears of further violence, as government troops have NATO's approval to advance further next week and enter a separate contested section of the buffer zone.

The zone was established in 1999 when NATO bombing forced the Serb-led troops out of Kosovo to stop former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

The buffer zone was supposed to keep Serbs at a distance from Kosovo, but it soon turned into a fighting area itself, with ethnic Albanian militants launching attacks to control the territory.

• Yugoslavia

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