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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Rebels Trapped; Refugee Tide Swells

Pristina, 28 July 1998 (RFE/RL) - Latest reports say as many as 1,000 separatists in Kosovo remain trapped by Serb and Yugoslav security forces in a village in the west of the Serbian province. Serb police sources say the heavily-armed rebels remain pinned down in the village of Junik, close to the Albanian border, after ignoring appeals to surrender last night. The UN says atleast 100,000 people have fled their homes. A UN spokesman compared the situation to the beginning of the Bosnian war and warned of a major humanitarian disaster in the winter if the crisis continues.

The village of Junik is on the edge of an area that has seen vicious fighting since Serbs mounted an offensive against separatists five days ago. The operation is said to have dislodged Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) fighters from some key road links they had been holding.

Tanjug news agency however says UCK rebels have counter-attacked strongly at the central village of Kijevo, forcing closure of the Pristina-Pec highway again. And ethnic Albanian sources say heavy fighting was underway today around the village of Suva Reka on another key road link from Pristina to Prizren in the south.

The UN refugee agency says at least 100,000 people have fled their homes because of the fighting. UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Kris Janowski, said today that figure is conservative because some who had fled were hiding in hills or in combat zones that the UNHCR had no access to. Janowski said the current situation in Kosovo had "scary similarities" with the beginning of the Bosnian war in the early 1990's and warned of a major humanitarian disaster in the winter if the crisis continues.

European Union foreign affairs commissioner Hans van den Broek echoed similar sentiments today in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. He said escalating violence in Serbia's Kosovo province could revive nationalist sentiment in Bosnia. He urged voters to avoid a reversion to hardline nationalism at September's general elections.

Van den Broek is to meet later today with Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic and Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik.

A European Union mission is due in the region today to seek a ceasefire and diplomatic solution. The mission is to meet the Yugoslav foreign minister Zivadin Jovanovic in Belgrade this evening and travel to the Kosovo provincial capital Pristina tomorrow. On Thursday, the mission meets Federal Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.