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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Fighting Reported Near Macedonian Border

Pristina, 2 March 1999 (RFE/RL) - Correspondents say Yugoslav army forces today launched tank and artillery attacks against ethnic Albanian fighters in Kosovo near the border with Macedonia. Beatrice Lacoste, a spokeswoman for the OSCE's Verification Mission in Kosovo, told RFE/RL that the reports are coming from a transport corridor NATO ground troops had been expected to use if they entered Kosovo -- either as part of a peacekeeping force or to help evacuate unarmed monitors.

Lacoste said the OSCE mission is not immediately able to confirm any reports of fighting today. But she said Yugoslav army forces have been concentrating tanks and artillery in recent days at the General Jokovic Bridge, about five kilometers from the Macedonian border.

She also said Yugoslav troops had wired the bridge with explosives within the last 10 days.

The Associated Press quotes Yugoslav army sources as blaming ethnic Albanians for today's fighting, saying separatist fighters launched an attack before dawn to secure a corridor to Macedonia.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees noted that some 3,000 displaced persons are crowded into the border town of Jankovic and hundreds more are living rough in nearby woods. He added that "this is the first case in some time where people are staying in the open."

The Serbian Media Center also reports fresh fighting today about 45 kilometers west of Pristina. The ethnic Albanian-run Kosovo Information Center also is reporting fighting on Mount Cicavica, about 15 kilometers west of Pristina.

Lacoste said there have been fresh deployments of Serb forces in both areas in the last week. She said OSCE monitors have confirmed that Belgrade has been moving anti-aircraft artillery into Kosovo for possible use against threatened NATO airstrikes.

Earlier today, the Kosovo Liberation Army's political representative, Adem Demaci, resigned in a move that could clear the way for ethnic Albanians to sign the Contact Group's autonomy plan for Kosovo. Belgrade still refuses to allow NATO troops within Yugoslav territory to police an agreement.