HeadLine: MILOSEVIC WARNED AS UNIT TAKES FIGHT INTO ALBANIA
Daily Record, 14/04/1999, p6
by Shaun Milne
SERB troops invaded Albania yesterday and engaged in a running battle with border troops and Kosovar rebels.
The Serb forces captured an Albanian village after a two-hour artillery bombardment.
Albanian police tried to repel the heavily armed Serbs who were believed to be in pursuit of raiders from the Kosovo Liberation Army.
But the armed police were forced to withdraw as the Serbs seized the settlement of Kamenica on the road to the Albanian town of Tropoje, five miles from the Kosovar border.
Tropoje is a major staging point for KLA units mounting hit-and-run raids against Serb forces in Kosovo.
The rebels have also recruited from among the tens of thousands of refugees here.
Albania’s interior minister, Petro Koci, said the Serbs eventually withdrew back to Kosovo but left houses burning as they retreated.
The Foreign Office and US Government condemned the Serb offensive and warned them against further violations.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.
“There have been skirmishes across the border for the past few days. We would strongly warn Serbia not to draw neighbouring countries into this dispute.”
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said: “We have made it clear to Belgrade that a widening of the conflict would have serious consequences.”
The Serbian Government denied its troops had crossed into Albania. Foreign ministry spokesman Nebojsa Vukovic said: “These accusations are absolutely
Around 4000 Albanians have been forced to flee the border region near Tropoje in recent days because of artillery and mortar strikes by Serb border troops.
Artan Jakupi, a translator with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe which monitors the border area, saw his own house and a cluster of others in Kamenica burning after the incursion.
He said: “I was expecting this to happen. They have been firing at us.”
In recent days, the Serbs have taken an increasingly hard line toward Albania, saying it would be held responsible for KLA operations launched from its soil.
Earlier this week, the Serbs claimed to have killed 150 KLA volunteers in a major battle but there has been no independent confirmation of the incident.
Yesterday, the Foreign Office said NATO troops in Albania were not involved in yesterday’s action.
A steady build-up of 8000 NATO troops has started in Albania, intended as military support to the humanitarian relief effort for an estimated 300,000 refugees who have crossed into Albania.
However, defence sources are acutely aware that Albania’s regular army would be tested to the limit by any large invasion by Serb forces and may be dragged into a conflict.
One defence source said: “As long as this type of activity is confined to the borders, there is little risk of escalation.
“The area is mountainous and the border is vague. Serb troops are constantly hunting KLA rebels who use the area as a crossing point.
“The problem would come if the Serbs decided to seriously go after the KLA a few miles inside the Albanian border.”
A spokesman for the Kosovo Crisis Centre which has links with the KLA said: “Yugoslav forces have violated the Albanian airspace and soil many times in
the recent months.
“Last year, 36 local Albanians were killed by Yugoslav army shelling in one border village.”