Hundreds flee as Serbs shell village in Kosovo

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The Independent Online
FEAR AND fighting have forced hundreds of Albanian villagers to flee their homes only 10 days after many had returned from makeshift shelters in the nearby mountains, convinced that Nato's vigilance and a ceasefire would keep them safe.

According to refugees and Kosovo separatist rebels, Serbian police and army positions reinforced on Sunday night by armoured vehicles and heavy weapons fired artillery and machine-guns at Terpeza and other villages dotted around the wooded hills west of Pristina that are still controlled by the Kosovo Liberation Army, and which are home to thousands of refugees living under plastic.

Almost all the 1,200 people living in Terpeza left in the middle of the night and moved up the Berisha mountain towards the Kisna Reka refugee camp, or set up shelters in the woods around.

By lunchtime yesterday a few men, including members of Terpeza's emergency council, were gathered on the edge of the village, which they said was now deserted.

"There was panic last night, and at the moment 90 per cent of the people are out of the village," said Kadri Krasniqi, a member of the council.

He said 15 shells - which could mean mortar bombs - had landed in the village, one hitting a house where 40 people were sheltering in the cellar. There were no injuries then.

But yesterday morning a woman from Terpeza who had sought shelter higher up was wounded by a shell landing in Novo Selo village, Mr Krasniqi said.

We certainly heard two explosions close by at mid- morning, as we toured the ridge above with KLA soldiers. They moved easily through the scrub oaks that cover the hilltops, pointing out Serb positions in the distance, and claiming that some of the armoured vehicles had dug in overnight.

"That arrived last night at 5pm," Shaban, a KLA rebel, said, pointing at a light-green armoured vehicle under the cover of trees. He did not seem overly concerned by the apparent build-up of Serb forces at a time when they are supposed to be withdrawing.

"We don't have anywhere else to go - the population is collected all around here and we will defend this population and make any sacrifice," he said.

"No matter what agreement, we have the right to defend ourselves and our population."

The agreement in question, brokered by the US envoy, Richard Holbrooke, is supposed to see President Slobodan Milosevic reduce Yugoslav troops and special police in Kosovo to peacetime levels by the start of next week, or face Nato air strikes.

The plan, which does not involve the KLA, was hammered out last week in Belgrade - which is why the people of Terpeza had returned to their village only a few hundred metres from a road that is now the front line.

"We didn't think we would be shelled again after the agreement was signed; we thought we would be safe," Mr Krasniqi said. "We thought that there would be some compromise, some agreement, and the conditions were getting really bad up in the mountains. We thought somebody would stop this aggression."