Thousands flee fighting in Kosovo

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SERB FORCES overran another ethnic Albanian stronghold, Smonica, and pressed their attacks elsewhere in Kosovo yesterday, after a weekend of fighting that displaced tens of thousands of people.

The UN relief agency estimated 35,000 people fled their homes during the weekend. The Red Cross reported finding twice that number in one area alone.

US envoy Christopher Hill called the offensive, which came a week after Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic promised that fighting against the Kosovo Liberation Army was over, a setback to peace efforts and said: "We are on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe."

The renewed clashes have disrupted communications and UN workers are unable to reach pockets of refugees cut off by the fighting.

Ethnic Albanian sources reported widespread fightingthroughout Kosovo and said six villages had been levelled.

Serb sources said that troops had shelled Smonica for days and continued yesterday to lay siege to another border village, Junik. Independent media in Belgrade said most KLA fighters had slipped out of the village for sanctuaries in nearby Albania.