Kosovo Fighting Spills Into Albania
DENIS D. GRAY
Jun. 01, 1999
MORINI, Albania (AP) _ NATO jets accidentally bombed government bunkers in northern Albania on Tuesday, injuring a Kosovo refugee as fighting raged along the border between Serb forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas.
The strikes narrowly missed a group of foreign journalists covering the border fighting.
The aircraft, some of them A-10 ground attack jets, were attempting to bomb Serb positions just inside Kosovo when they unleashed their load on a line of Albanian military bunkers instead.
``I heard what I thought was a low-flying aircraft overhead but it was a missile. It hit about 100 meters away. I could feel the heat. Debris from the explosion was flying overhead,'' said Associated Press Television News cameraman Thomas Nicholson, one of a dozen journalists in the area.
The correspondents scattered after the first explosion, and the jets returned again to hit the bunker line.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said a Kosovo Albanian refugee was injured in the second bombing and taken by monitors to nearby Kukes for treatment. His condition apparently was not serious.
Albanian villagers fled in panic near the key border crossing at Morini.
Some tried to flag down cars. One old man ran down the road, shouting and holding up his hands in apparent disbelief at what occurred.
Chunks of shrapnel found in deep craters around four of the bunkers carried assembly dates and designations of ``high explosive'' and ``fin-guided'' in English.
There was no official NATO confirmation of the bombing errors.
The OSCE said at least seven bombs were dropped as deep as 2 miles inside Albanian territory.
NATO sorties the past several days are being flown in support of the Kosovo Liberation Army fighting Serb forces just inside Kosovo. The KLA guerrillas have been attempting to move deeper into the embattled Yugoslav province to open up a supply corridor and capture the Serb border checkpoint at Morini.
The OSCE said Serb gunners shelled Albanian artillery positions and bunkers along the borders overnight, damaging the police station at Morini.
In the wake of a night of shelling, knots of Albanian villagers and refugees took to the road from the border to the refugee-swollen area around Kukes.
``All the refugees have left,'' said Seeim Tusha, 62, a shepherd from the hamlet of Durak, the closest Albanian settlement to the frontier.
``I was born here and I will die in this place,'' Tusha said tending a flock of sheep on a rocky hillside overlooking the border checkpoint.
Sporadic gunfire echoing through the valley mingled with the buzz of NATO warplanes overhead and the bleating of sheep.
Several miles deeper into Albania, refugee Xhemael Ademi, his wife and 2-year-old son walked along the road toward Kukes, saying six Serb shells landed around the village where they were staying. A large crater was seen in the midst of a wheat field.
Carrying their possessions in a single handbag, the farming family said it had been expelled by Serb authorities from their home in the border village of Zhur two months ago.
Refugee workers are concerned about the militarization of the northeastern Albanian frontier, the main avenue of escape for citizens fleeing Kosovo.
``The security situation both at the border crossing and to the north in Kruma seems to be deteriorating practically by the hour, which is making operations extremely difficult, especially for new arrivals,'' said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Rupert Colville.
A move is under way to relocate nearly 30,000 refugees around Kukes to safer camps inside Albania. The refugee camps in Kukes and nearby Kruma are within Serb artillery range.
The UNHCR says 442,000 refugees have sought refuge in Albania and nearly as many to Macedonia. In all, 850,000 ethnic Albanians have fled Kosovo since March.