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Yugoslavia: Fighting Reported Again Today In Kosovo

Pristina, 6 March 1998 (RFE/RL) - Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian separatists are battling for a second straight day today in villages west of Kosovo's provincial capital of Pristina. The Yugoslav government yesterday launched heavy armor and helicopter attacks in the Serbian province's Drenica region, which has been closed to journalists. Belgrade says 20 separatists were killed yesterday. But separatist leaders say at least 50 people were killed, including women and children.

Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the largest ethnic Albanian political party in Kosovo, says Belgrade is conducting a campaign of "ethnic cleansing." He called today for the province to become an international protectorate to prevent what he says is a "massacre" of innocent civilians. About 90 percent of those living in Kosovo are ethnic Albanians.

Hundreds of women and children have been fleeing their homes since the assault was launched. Correspondents say the town of Srbica is nearly deserted amid fears of more fighting.

Meanwhile, Albania has put its army on high alert along its northern borders with Yugoslavia. The Defense Ministry in Tirana says there has been a buildup of Serbian troops along the Albanian border.

The developments have prompted a quick reaction by countries neighboring the region. Turkey's Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz travels to Bulgaria tomorrow to meet with Prime Minister Ivan Kostov for talks expected to focus on rising tensions in Kosovo.

Bulgaria, especially, has been active in trying to promote a diplomatic solution in Kosovo. Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and Romania have agreed to maintain routine contacts on regional issues. Greece's Prime Minister Costas Simitis is scheduled to visit Sofia next month.