- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

KONCUL, Yugoslavia Albanian civilians are being targeted by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian guerrillas, who are adopting increasingly ruthless tactics to expand their influence into Serbia proper and Macedonia.
A small group of Western reporters also came under fire Saturday during a visit to Oslare, a village near the Kosovo-Serbian border surrounded by fields of wheat and red peppers, which had been shelled that morning from rebel positions in wooded hills nearby.
As the reporters approached an Albanian farmhouse on the outskirts of the village, three mortar shells exploded within about 10 yards of them, sending them scrambling behind a stone wall and into the simple farm kitchen.
There, a farmer, Ilaza Jahiha, comforted his terrified 10-year-old daughter as another blast rocked their home. The girl's grandmother, who had been busy cutting the throats of turkeys to sell at a local market, looked out stoically through her white veil.
A surge in fighting by the self-styled Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac has prompted NATO to consider letting Yugoslav forces into a 3-mile-wide buffer zone along Kosovo's border with Serbia to deal with rebel forces using it as a haven for attacks on Serbian policemen and into neighboring Macedonia, which has a large Albanian minority.
However negotiations aimed at first achieving a cease-fire for the protection of the Albanians failed last night when UCPMB commanders refused to agree to Yugoslav troops entering the town of Ternova, now controlled by ethnic Albanian gunmen.
Western diplomatic sources say the town has become an international center for trafficking in narcotics, arms and illegal emigrants by Russian, Serbian and Albanian criminal gangs.
NATO Special Envoy Pieter Feith, a tenacious Dutchman, wrangled for hours over the weekend with UCPMB commander Shefret Musliu at a grand Italian-style villa in the guerrilla-held town of Koncul, where guerrillas in black fatigues with gold shoulder flashes guard the road.
One of them fidgeted with a bayonet on an AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle as NATO peacekeepers escorted Mr. Feith to the mountain lair.
The talks were abandoned last night when ethnic Albanian gunmen launched a fresh attack on Serbian forces in the town of Lucane straddling the boundary between the buffer zone and Serbia, said Nebojsa Covic, the Serbian deputy prime minister responsible for the Kosovo issue.
Journalists passing through Lucane before last night's rebel attack saw a town defended by Yugoslav tanks and camouflaged Serbian special forces who were dug in against sporadic Albanian sniper fire.
Mr. Covic said the UCPMB began firing at Yugoslav special forces and police positions with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades at 6:45 p.m. from a strategic hill overlooking the battered town, the scene of heavy fighting on Friday.
"We agreed with NATO completely on stopping hostilities, but the Albanians responded with fire," he said.
Mr. Miliu, the bushy-bearded UCPMB commander, was unapologetic when he met reporters at his villa, standing by the now-abandoned negotiating table decorated with Albanian, U.S., British and NATO flags.
"We shall fight to the last man," he said with a mischievous grin.
Members of Mr. Miliu's tiny liberation army also said they were determined to fight.
In the dimly lit street in front of a shop packed with singing townspeople, a guerrilla commander who called himself "Skorpion" said he made no distinction between the government of Slobodan Milosevic and the democratic reformers who took office after a popular uprising overthrew the president in October.
Military sources said the breakdown in negotiations led the Yugoslav army to postpone "for several days" its deployment into the buffer zone near the Macedonian border, where U.S. airborne troops last week drove Albanian guerrillas out of a strategic village.
Some NATO officials are unhappy that when the Yugoslavs do move in, they will include the elite 7th Battalion of the Yugoslav 2nd Army, a feared special forces unit including many former paramiliaries who took part in a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999.
Also selected to help clear Albanian fighters from the zone known to NATO as "Charlie eastern zone" is the 63rd Parachute Regiment based at Nis. Officers with the Yugoslav forces said they needed "more detailed instructions" before beginning the operation.

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