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Serb Forces Cross Into Albania

April 13, 1999

BAJRAM CURRI, Albania (AP) _ Serb infantry troops crossed into Albania today, seized control of a border village, and fought a running battle with border police and Albanian soldiers, Albania’s information minister said.

The Yugoslavs took Kamenica (Kah-mah-NEE-tsah), a village in northern Albania that has been shelled by the Serbs for several days, Interior Minister Petro Koci said. There were no immediate reports of casualties _ most villagers had fled _ but houses were burning.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said he could not confirm the report. But he added: ``We would consider with utmost seriousness any Serb attempt to widen the war.″

During the 14-month Kosovo conflict, border clashes and small-scale incursions have taken place repeatedly. But this incident appeared far more serious and more highly charged because of the allied presence in Albania.

Information Minister Musa Ulqini said the initial Serb incursion was met by a small contingent of border police. Regular army units as a rule stay a few miles back from the border to avoid the appearance of any provocation, he said.

As the border police fell back, the army pushed forward and joined the fighting, Ulqini said.

In recent days, tensions have spiked along Albania’s northern frontier, which has long been a prime staging ground for the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army.

``We have seen the flames from the houses,″ said Pier Gonggrijp, an observer with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors the border.

Artan Jakupi, an OSCE translator, said he saw his own house in Kamenica burning, along with a cluster of others.

``I was expecting this to happen. They have been firing at us,″ he said.

NATO has taken over Albania’s airfields, airspace and military infrastructure for its campaign to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to pull his troops out of Kosovo, as well as to aid more than 300,000 Kosovo refugees in Albania.

Yugoslavia has been reinforcing positions along the borders with both Albania and Macedonia in apparent preparation for a possible ground assault by the allies.

Jakupi said observers first heard of the clash in Kamenica by monitoring the border police radio frequency.

``They (Serb forces) know, or they think, that all across the border and border villages are supporting the KLA,″ he said.

Ulqini said between 3,000 and 4,000 Albanian villagers had fled the area being shelled, 70 miles north of the Albanian capital, Tirana, over the past two days.

Yugoslavia recently has taken an increasingly hard line toward Albania, suggesting it would hold it responsible for KLA action initiated from its soil.

The KLA has been trying to regroup in the wake of a Serb and Yugoslav onslaught unleashed after NATO launched airstrikes March 24.

After a border clash last week with the KLA, Yugoslavia said ``terrorist groups and those who support them will have to take the consequences for the eventual flareup of the war in the Balkans and the responsibility for the bloodshed.″

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