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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones