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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee