War In The Balkans: Serbs enter Albania and burn village

SERB FORCES pushed more than a mile into northern Albania yesterday. They occupied the village of Kamenica and torched homes. Albanian border guards exchanged fire with the Yugoslav troops, who later withdrew back into Kosovo.

The occupation lasted just a few hours and appeared to be an attempt to destabilise the supply lines of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which uses the border region to run training camps and smuggle weapons into Kosovo. The incursion was denied by Belgrade but heightened fears that the conflict is in danger of spreading.

"We have seen houses burning, we have seen the flames," said Pier Gonggripj, head of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring office in Bajram Curri, the largest town in the area where Serb forces launched their assault.

The town is only eight miles from the border, and the monitors, standing on the roof of their hotel, were able to watch Kamenica burning until low cloud obscured the view.

By mid-afternoon, a few Albanian soldiers hung around at a crossroads about five miles from Kamenica, gazing at the tiny settlement perched in a clearing under a ridgeline. It was barely visible because of the persistent drizzle and clouds.

"It is too dangerous to go any further," said Captain Qamil Katuroshi, as two Kosovo rebels trotted up on a pair of ponies, then cantered off up the road under the gaze of a television camera. "The situation was terrible. Now it's quieter."

Mr Gonggripj and his OSCE monitors had a running commentary of the incident, since they were listening in to the Albanian border guards' radio frequency. "Shortly before 1 o'clock there was some shelling with mortars of Kamenica - that was nothing new because it has been happening for the last three days," Mr Gonggripj explained.

"Then at about 1.10 we heard ... them saying that the Yugoslav light infantry had crossed the border and were advancing on the border police post. They were already firing their weapons. The border police chief ordered them [the border guards] to open fire against the intruders."

The chief's actual words were: "Be a man, we will support you." Then, he warned his men against getting surrounded and advised them to withdraw. "At 1.20... we heard

on the radio that the Yugoslav soldiers - there were about 50 of them - had reached the house where our sub-office used to be and then one minute later that they had reached the Kamenica border post," Mr Gonggripj added.

Within 10 minutes came the news that the Yugoslav forces were retreating from the village and that there were no Albanian casualties. The Albanian army fired artillery at the enemy forces - "the first time of any response from the Albanian side", according to Mr Gonggripj. He supports the Albanian line that the KLA is not active in Kamenica - although observers speculate that the assault might have come in reprisal for KLA attacks elsewhere. Capt Katuroshi, among others, claimed the KLA had won control of the Koshara border post, attacking the Serbs from inside Kosovo. The OSCE has heard rumours to this effect, but has no confirmation of the incident.

Monitors have reported eight KLA dead and eight wounded from fighting in Kosovo, including four soldiers who crossed into a minefield.

The assault will have the effect of scaring people away from the border region, which will suit the Serbs, who want free rein to pursue the KLA.

Frightened civilians from Tropoje and another village, Vichidol, walked along the muddy track towards Bajram Curri, herding sheep, goats and cattle too valuable to be left behind in case of another Serbian attack. Two donkeys overloaded with bundles of possessions plodded through the rain while their owner wandered behind, sheltering under a large umbrella.

In Tropoje where three people have been killed and 16 wounded by Serb shells in the past few days, Ziz Shabani, 61, and other villagers are living underground in an L-shaped bunker perhaps 2 metres wide and 2 metres high. "We are hiding here because the Serbs are shelling our village - we are afraid," she said, gesturing to the camp beds covered in grey blankets that now furnish the shelter, and which they moved into shortly after the first Nato air strikes drew retaliatory Serb shelling.

Gjyl Mula was finishing her packing, to head out for the capital, Tirana, a journey that will cost $200 (pounds 126) "We are going because we have been living in the bunker for 17 days and we are still afraid. We have no family there, we are going like refugees," she said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most