- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2001

Ethnic-Albanian separatists, disregarding a warning from Secretary of State Colin Powell this week against further provocations, engaged in fresh fighting yesterday along Kosovo's borders with both Macedonia and Serbia.

NATO, the United Nations and the international peacekeeping force in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo yesterday all offered support for the multiethnic government of Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski. He has been unable to evict Albanian guerrillas operating in the border town of Tanusevci for more than a month.

Macedonian Defense Minister Ljuben Paunovski accused Albanian separatists of trying to create "a new flashpoint and to undermine the work of the international missions in Kosovo and in the region."

Radical ethnic-Albanian groups dream of linking Albanian-dominated territories in southern Serbia, Kosovo and northern Macedonia into an independent state.

Mr. Powell in Brussels Tuesday warned the extremists that this is "not the time to start a new conflict in Europe."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that Mr. Powell spoke by phone with Mr. Trajkovski before leaving Europe Tuesday and praised the "measured response" to the incursion by the government in Skopje.

"Clearly, we condemn any violence by the extremists who are trying to undermine stability in Macedonia and Kosovo and in the region," Mr. Boucher said.

Journalists in the region reported heavy gunfire in northern Macedonia and in southern Serbia yesterday, with at least one Serbian policeman injured in the fighting. It was not clear who had started the clash.

Macedonian state television reported that the ethnic-Albanian rebels in Tanusevci opened fire on the army and police. A Macedonian border checkpoint was also targeted by an anti-tank rocket that missed, Macedonian state radio said, without giving details.

Fighting between the separatists and the Macedonian army on Monday forced hundreds of Tanusevci residents to flee. Reporters in the Kosovo village Debelde across the border said yesterday they heard shooting and saw about a dozen Albanian rebels running across the mountainside.

But information on the conflicts has proved hard to obtain.

Despite the reports, Commander Carlo Cabigiosu of the Kosovo Implementation Force (Kfor) said yesterday that Kfor had no evidence that armed Albanian guerrillas were using Kosovo as a staging ground for attacks inside Macedonia.

The incidents come as NATO and the new democratic government in Yugoslavia work out a plan to allow more Serbian military forces into a restricted buffer zone in southern Serbia. The zone was established after NATO's victorious air war against former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic in 1999.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up more than 90 percent of the province's population, garnered international sympathy as the victims of an ethnic-cleansing campaign by Mr. Milosevic in the late 1990s.

But the mood has swung sharply as ethnic-Albanian political parties in Kosovo press for independence and Albanian guerrilla groups are blamed for the fighting in both Serbia and Macedonia.

A new guerrilla force known as the Army for National Liberation claims to be pressing for independence for Albanian-dominated territory in Macedonia. Its Albanian acronym UCK is identical to that of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the ethnic-Albanian force that was supposedly disbanded after leading the fight against Mr. Milosevic.

Hashim Thaci, the onetime KLA leader who now heads one of Kosovo's main political parties, yesterday condemned NATO's decision to ease the restrictions on Serbia in the buffer zone.

"An advance of the army that caused genocide in Kosovo could have a negative impact on the region," he said.

Mohammed Xhemajli, chief of staff of the Albanian guerrilla force operating in southern Serbia, told the Agence France-Presse news service that Serbian forces had begun the fighting yesterday.

"We feel betrayed by NATO, but we are used to that," said Mr. Xhemajli.

He said the decision by NATO Secretary-General George Robertson this week to ease the buffer-zone restrictions was like "giving a license to kill to criminals."

But Mr. Powell and other NATO foreign ministers meeting Tuesday in Brussels showed little sympathy for the Kosovo Albanians' stance.

"It's extremists who are the source of the problems in the [buffer] zone," Mr. Powell said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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