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Monday, March 15, 1999 Published at 17:38 GMT

World: Europe

Fighting rages in northern Kosovo

Yugoslav tanks along the Pristina-Vucitrn road in northern Kosovo

As ethnic Albanians agreed to a peace deal in Paris, fighting between Yugoslav forces and Kosovo Liberation Army rebels continued around the regional capital of Pristina.

Jacky Rowland reports: "Not a favourable backdrop to the talks
International monitors said that Yugoslav tanks and heavy machine guns fired on rebel ethnic Albanian positions near Lebane village, just three miles (five km) north of Pristina.

Kosovo Section
International monitors say the KLA fired on a Yugoslav army vehicle, wounding a colonel and provoking an exchange of fire.

Abandoned villages

Villagers in Vucitrn fled after Yugoslav troops with armoured vehicles and heavy machine guns targeted KLA positions about 25 miles (40km) northwest of Pristina.

There has been sporadic fighting along the Vucitrn front, which now stretches at least nine miles (15 km) north to south, for about three weeks.

But in the last three days government troops in the area, who now number in the hundreds, have stepped up their pressure against the KLA.

Roads leading to the rebel-held village of Osljane were mined after several houses were set on fire by shelling on Sunday, said Ulf Russ, an OSCE spokesman.

The Kosovo Albanian human rights committee in Pristina said a convoy of "about 100 military vehicles" with tanks and armoured personnel carriers, entered Kosovo in the early hours of Monday from Serbia.

Monitors' position worsens

[ image: The peace talks in Paris are divorced from the situation on the ground]
The peace talks in Paris are divorced from the situation on the ground
And as the situation on the ground becomes more precarious, the monitors themselves have increasingly become the victims of harassment

The monitoring mission has reported two separate incidents involving its verifiers. In one incident, Yugoslav forces fired in the direction of a vehicle carrying monitors.

In the second, the monitoring mission - from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe - said one of its teams was surrounded by about 30 rebel fighters. No one was injured in either incident.

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said this harassment was becoming "increasingly bold and blunt". "Both sides are now ceasing to respect the authority and independence of the Kosovo verification mission," Mr Cook told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Serb account

Earlier on Monday, the Serbian-run media centre in Pristina said "large numbers of Albanian terrorists" fired on a police station and army post at Luzane village, near Podujevo town, also in the north.

It said the rebels fired on the security forces around 1000 pm (2100 GMT) on Sunday, and again five hours later. No casualties were reported.

On Saturday, six people were killed and 66 injured in bomb attacks in Podujevo and Kosovska Mitrovica, in one of the bloodiest weekends since the peace process began. Serbs and Kosovars blamed each other for the attacks.

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