Serbs get ready for war with the West

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The Independent Online
YUGOSLAV ARMY forces are digging in positions along Kosovo's southern border with Macedonia and forcing thousands of Albanian villagers to flee, apparently in preparation to confront Nato troops should they try to march north.

The Serbs oppose Western plans for a Nato-led force to police a potential peace agreement in Kosovo between the government and ethnic Albanian rebels from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)

Shell casings from 30mm anti-aircraft cannon marked a spot along the main road to Pristina, from where troops fired on the village of Gajre. Further along the road, soldiers sat in new bunkers. On the hills nearby, hundreds of men, women and children are living in the open, sleeping under plastic stretched over wooden frames.

The movement of tanks, anti-aircraft guns and artillery pieces around the border town of Djeneral Jankovic and attacks on mountain villages have prompted the KLA to move its own soldiers into the area. Belgrade had earlier agreed to station only three army companies in Kosovo. Now there are 20 in the area, according to informed sources.

Shaban Gupi, an Albanian official in Djeneral Jankovic, said the region had been peaceful until 21 February, when police shot dead a prominent local Albanian and his son.

A Western monitor in Kosovo agreed that the Yugoslav army appeared to be taking action to prevent Nato forces in Macedonia from entering Kosovo. Another monitor said: "They know Nato is building up in Macedonia and they have to take military measures."

At least 2,000 people took shelter in Djeneral Jankovic this week fearing attacks by the army, while 1,200 more moved out to Macedonia. Yesterday, United Nations officials found another group of 200 Kosovars who had been camping in the open air for five nights.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 5,000 people have left the border area since Saturday.

The village of Gorance, perched on a high plain near the border crossing, has a normal population of just under a thousand. Yesterday, four men were to be seen on the dusty main street with flocks of sheep, dogs, roosters and wandering cows.

Uniformed men wearing masks entered Gorance three days ago, searching houses and intimidating the inhabitants, according to Lusnjani Haki, 76, who was one of the few to stay behind. The sound of shooting nearby convinced almost everyone to leave.

"We never had troubles before," Mr Haki said. His neighbours fled to Macedonia, less than two miles away. "It's very risky because the border is mined but nobody thought of that when they left, they just wanted to go."

The Yugoslav authorities, however, are accusing the KLA and journalists of "simulating" a humanitarian disaster in the region.