War in the Balkans: Conflict Spreads: Albanians flee as war crosses border

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BETWEEN THE villages of Padesh and Koshare, on Albania's rugged northern border, an undeclared border war is under way between the Yugoslav army and Kosovars sheltering in the mother country.

The thunder of artillery reverberated yesterday across the cloud-covered mountains north of the nearby town of Bajram Curri, as locals from the villages of Tropoje and Gegaj packed up and moved out for fear of another Serbian incursion, after Tuesday's attack on the Kamenica border post.

Five soldiers from the Kosovo Liberation Army have been killed in the fighting over the past 48 hours and at least two wounded. A doctor at the morgue in Bajram Curri said four of the bodies had been recovered from Serbian territory.

One of the wounded, Qamil Jasipi, who joined the KLA 11 months ago, said he and his comrade Demush Gaxaferiwere injured when a mortar shell crashed into the village of Padesh, on the Albanian side of the border. "There was no fighting at that time. We were helping an Albanian family move to a safer place" when the shell exploded near by, he explained.

Black smoke rose from the village of Kamenica yesterday, and every few minutes came the rumble of another shell landing over the ridge.

At a muddy crossroads above the village of Tropoje, Sosa Dautaj emerged from a hollow in the red earth bank bordering the road. It turned out to be the entrance tunnel to a small bunker, one of the thousands of concrete mushrooms built under the paranoid rule of Albania's former dictator Enver Hoxha. Six people are staying there now, the only light coming from a firing slit.

"We move only when they stop bombing and we only go out for water and bread," Mrs Dautaj said. She moved out of the family home in Tropoje when it was hit by a shell.

Traffic on the road consisted of KLA tractor-trailers driven down empty and brought back full - the loads were covered with blankets, but appeared to include wooden ammunition boxes.

Fighting in the area does not yet involve the Albanian army, although border police under Yugoslav attack in Kamenica returned fire. And despite Serbian claims to the contrary, monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe say the KLA is operating without Albanian assistance, logistical or military.

Co-operation between the two forces "is non-existent", said Pier Gonggrijp, chief of the OSCE mission in Bajram Curri.

However, the KLA has the run of the place and is busy training hundreds of recruits. The Yugoslav army has mined huge areas of the frontier.

"My opinion is that they would like to have a cordon sanitaire, not only on the Kosovo side but also to have something similar along the Albanian side," Mr Gonggrijp said. The question is whether Tirana can tolerate such a policy or will feel compelled to send troops, heavy weapons or aircraft into battle alongside the rebels.