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Militants Wound Yugoslav Soldier

January 20, 2001

VRANJE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Ethnic Albanian militants shot and injured a Yugoslav army soldier in the volatile south Serbian region just outside Kosovo, a military statement said Saturday.

Although Serbian police have been targeted by militants in the months-long standoff for control of the region, it was the first report of a Yugoslav soldier being shot.

Drazen Radovanac, 22, was wounded in the leg Friday when the assailants opened fire on a Yugoslav army position in the Presevo Valley where ethnic Albanian separatists are fighting to unite the territory with Kosovo.

The area of tensions is a 3-mile-wide strip of land established as a security zone by the 1999 peace deal for Kosovo, which allows only lightly armed Serbian police to operate there.

Serbia is the larger of the two Yugoslav republics, and Kosovo remains part of Serbia even though it is under U.N. and NATO control. Yugoslav army troops have been deployed on the edge of the zone to prevent violence from spreading.

The army statement said the soldiers returned fire and that Radovanac was hospitalized in a stable condition.

Earlier Friday, a policeman was slightly wounded in a separate encounter with the militants. Authorities also said they had apprehended a suspected ethnic Albanian ``terrorist″ found in possession of 60 pounds of explosives, two hand grenades, three automatic rifles, 450 bullets and a bulletproof vest.

Police said they were looking for two other members of the ``terrorist group″ based in the town of Bujanovac, also in the contested area.

Also Friday, the head of the Yugoslav army, Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, accused the NATO-led peacekeepers deployed in Kosovo of failing to disarm the ethnic Albanians who use the province as a key staging area for the attacks outside Kosovo.

Pavkovic said the army is determined to prevent any spread of violence and is ready to assist the police in ``clearing up the situation.″

Update hourly