Ethnic Albanians stir up Kosovo

Peacekeepers clash with those they saved

March 17, 2000|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Less than a year after ejecting Serb troops from Kosovo, NATO forces are increasingly at odds with those they came to save: the ethnic Albanians.

With the approach of spring -- the favored killing time in the Balkans -- hundreds of ethnic Albanians are crossing from the allied-occupied province of Kosovo into Serbia proper, attacking the villages of their historic enemy and threatening the region's tenuous peace.

The Pentagon plans to send unmanned surveillance drones to pinpoint and perhaps prevent infiltration by the ethnic Albanians.

And U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO's commander, is putting the finishing touches on a proposal to add 2,000 allied troops, some of whom he wants to patrol the rugged and mountainous 125-mile border between the southeastern part of the troubled province and Serbia.

Clark "needs more guys to close up that border. It's very porous," said one NATO military officer yesterday, adding that he expects the proposal to be finished in two weeks.

Meanwhile, about 350 U.S. troops swept along the Kosovo-Serbian border in trucks and helicopters Wednesday, seizing a cache of arms and detaining nine ethnic Albanians during a raid on five villages. No shots were fired, and no injuries were reported.

The operation uncovered seven rifles, 28 grenades and six mines, as well as almost two-dozen crates of ammunition and 200 military-style uniforms.

"We think there are multiple small insurgent groups that are operating in this general vicinity," Pentagon spokesman P. J. Crowley said yesterday.

"We understand that there are undoubtedly hard-liners within the Kosovar Albanian community that want to continue to carry on the fight."

Pentagon and NATO officials estimate that the insurgents number about 500 and operate in eight to 10 loosely organized groups. And there is concern that those numbers will grow unless the allies crack down on the fighters and seize their weapons.

Some of the insurgents were members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which fought the Serbs and was disbanded last year by NATO after the alliance's 78-day air war against Serbia.

Attacks from Kosovo

Yugoslavian officials are complaining that ethnic Albanian fighters, operating from the safety of allied-administered Kosovo, are making frequent attacks into the Presevo Valley in Serbia and destabilizing the area.

The insurgents are hoping to absorb portions of the valley into the majority-ethnic Albanian Kosovo province.

NATO is trying to maintain an evenhanded presence in Kosovo between the Albanians and their Serb neighbors, many of whom have fled the province in fear.

A senior Pentagon official said that should the attacks continue, "ultimately it's going to lead to a confrontation between the Albanians and [the allies]."

In Paris, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday that he was requesting additional troops and police from a number of countries to stem the violence in Kosovo, which he blamed on the hard-line ethnic Albanians.

"I am in touch with several heads of state. We need money, police and troops," he said in a television interview.

There are about 37,000 troops from NATO and non-alliance countries patrolling in Kosovo, including about 5,300 Americans, the largest contingent of troops among the allied forces.

NATO officials said Clark has contacted officials in the United States, France, Italy and Poland about contributing to the 2,000-troop contingent that he wants to add to the current allied force.

Hot spots, observation posts

Besides helping to monitor the border with Serbia, the troops would deal with the hot spot of Kosovska Mitrovica, an industrial town in the north of Kosovo, where Serb and ethnic Albanian citizens have been engaged in fierce rioting.

To stem cross-border attacks, U.S. forces have erected three observation posts in the American sector in the southeast part of Kosovo. But with six major roads and about 200 trails heading into Serbia from that area, the posts provide inadequate coverage.

The senior Pentagon official estimated it would take more than 16,000 U.S. troops to effectively seal the portion of the border between Kosovo and Serbia within the American sector.

Pentagon officials said an additional 50 U.S. Army troops will be sent to Kosovo to operate up to five Hunter unmanned surveillance drones in the American sector. The aircraft, with a 29-foot wingspan and a range of 120 miles, can stay aloft at 15,000 feet for up to 12 hours. The craft can pick up radio signals and provide live video, including infrared video at night.

Asking more from Europe

Some members of Congress are growing increasingly impatient with the Kosovo operation and say the Europeans should send more troops and police, pointing out that the United States supplied about three-quarters of the attack aircraft during last year's conflict with Serbia.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.