Troops battle for control of Kosovo roads

Click to follow
FIERCE FIGHTING erupted yesterday in Serbia's war-torn Kosovo province, as Albanian separatists and Serbs troops battled for control of the two main roads leading west and south of the capital, Pristina.

Serb tanks were also spotted rumbling south out of Pristina. This is more confirmation, if any was needed, that Belgrade's so-called police operation against Albanian "terrorists" has failed to subdue the revolt against Serbian rule and is inevitably drawing in the Yugoslav army.

The worst fighting was centred on the town of Klina, 30 miles west of Pristina and the centre of the Albanian insurrection which erupted earlier this year.

Last night the Albanian Prime Minister, Fatos Nano, claimed that his country was "on the eve of war" with Yugoslavia over Kosovo. He pledged co-operation with Nato but said that the best solution for Kosovo was not independence but to be a full republic within Yugoslavia.

Military analysts said the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was most likely to be attempting to create a corridor across the road, linking belts of territory that they hold north and south of this key communication artery. Albanian sources reported that army tanks were blasting at houses and farms in villages near Klina. North of Pristina, exchanges of fire were reported between Serbs and Albanians in an ethnically-mixed village.

With every sign that the fighting is set to continue and perhaps intensify over the summer, Serbia's ally, Russia, yesterday urged the West not to put pressure on Belgrade to withdraw its police and troops from the province, which is one of the West's key demands.

In an interview on Russian television, Yevgeny Primakov, the Foreign Minister, said if Serbia was to withdraw its 40-50,000-strong security force, it might prompt an exodus of the entire Serbian population. "It will result in a flow of Serbian refugees, who will regard the move as a signal to leave," he said.

The Contact Group of major powers on former Yugoslavia, which comprises Russia, the United States, Britain, France and Germany, was due to meet to discuss the crisis in Kosovo tomorrow.

In Vienna, the secretary-general of Nato, Javier Solana, said the organisation had still not ruled out military intervention to halt the alleged Serbian "ethnic cleansing" that has sent tens of thousands of Albanians from western Kosovo flooding into neighbouring Albania.