VELIKA RIBORA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Stone-faced or crying, hundreds of new refugees fled Serb tank fire Monday as the government drive to snuff out separatist rebels drew closer to Kosovo's provincial capital.

Dirt roads winding through the cornfields south of Pristina were dotted with tractors or horses pulling trailers full of ethnic Albanian women and children trying to find safety from the newest assault.

Smoke from burning villages billowed into the azure sky, and the boom of explosions and screaming of jets _ apparently belonging to the Yugoslav air force _ mingled with the crowing of roosters.

The latest offensive by Serb police and the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army began late Sunday.

Refugees and villagers in Velika Ribora, just miles from the front, rattled off the names of villages being targeted by Serb tanks in the hills near Stimjle. The shelling extended along a 10-to-20 mile front southwest of Pristina.

Blerim Sadiku fled the area Monday, driving a horse-drawn carriage loaded with his family, mattresses and other belongings. ``It was too dangerous to stay,'' he said.

Asked where they were headed, he replied: ``We have no idea. We have to ask someone for shelter.''

In Velika Ribora, women with children were holed up in a mosque. A nearby two-room house was crowded with more than 40 refugees. Residents said more than 1,000 refugees had arrived since the shelling began Sunday.

One of them, Mehmet Olluri, said nearly 5,000 other refugees had been camping out in forests and hills near Krajmirovca, 30 miles south of Pristina, without food for three weeks.

Humanitarian agencies estimate about 50,000 Kosovo refugees are trying to survive in the open.

Villagers, as well as Serb and Kosovo Albanian press offices, listed a total of 15 people killed since Sunday.

A Serb journalist and his driver, who disappeared Saturday in the Orahovac region, were still missing Monday.

Pristina has so far escaped the fighting that has killed hundreds of people and displaced an estimated 230,000 from their homes since the Serbs launched a crackdown on ethnic Albanian rebels early this year.

The insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army is fighting to wrest Kosovo away from Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia. Ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs 9-to-1 in the province.

The latest Serb actions are thought to be in retaliation for reported KLA attacks Saturday and early Sunday on Serb police and a Yugoslav army unit.

Serb forces have sent KLA fighters fleeing in an all-out push since mid-July.

In an interview published Monday, a rebel spokesman acknowledged that the KLA will now rely on guerrilla warfare to win the province's independence from Serbia.

Adem Demaci told the Vienna news magazine Profil that the rebels had made the ``fatal mistake'' of trying to ``defend a territory they cannot defend.'' Now they will launch surprise strikes, he said.