Serb TV says 300 Albanian troops are in Kosovo

 

Serbian state television claimed yesterday that around 300 Albanian army soldiers were in the Serbian province of Kosovo, where ethnic Albanian separatists are involved in heavy fighting with the Yugoslav army under the control of Serbian authorities.

The Albanian government had warned on Saturday that the escalating clashes on its border with Kosovo were "a provocation" threatening its sovereignty and aimed at involving Tirana in "a very dangerous regional conflict". But Tirana denied yesterday that any of its troops had crossed the border.

The Yugoslav army sent heavy weapons and infantry yesterday to help police drive fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) from the town of Orahovac in one of the biggest battles of the Kosovo conflict. More than 100 people are believed to have been killed in various clashes over the weekend, many of them along the border, as KLA fighters apparently attempted to enter Kosovo from Albanian territory.

Some 350 people had been estimated killed in the previous five months of fighting.

According to Serbian RTS television, the information on an Albanian army incursion into Kosovo was based on "statements by detained members" of the separatist (KLA).

The claim was immediately rejected last night by the Albanian Deputy Defence Minister, Mr Ilir Bocka, who said: "The Albanian army is not involved in any action outside the borders of Albania."

On Saturday, the Albanian government urged the international community to "take extraordinary measures to stop, by any means, the fascist aggression Belgrade is inflicting on the Albanian population of Kosovo", which is 90 per cent ethnic Albanian.

The Albanian Foreign Minister, Mr Paskal Milo, told a newspaper yesterday that his country "expresses its fraternal solidarity and supports the just struggle of Albanians in Kosovo".

The Serbian TV report also claimed that hundreds of separatists who had tried to cross into the province from Albania over the weekend had prepared their incursion from the Albanian capital, Tirana. Once they arrived in Albania, the KLA members are "trained and equipped in [the Albanian towns of] Bajram Curri and Tropoja," near the border with Yugoslavia, RTS said.

Meanwhile, a British diplomat visited a jailed aid worker, Ms Sally Becker, in Kosovo's only women's prison yesterday, saying she was "generally in good health," the Serb information centre in Pristina reported.

Ms Becker, a member of the British humanitarian agency Operation Angel, was sentenced to a month in jail on Saturday after being arrested by the Yugoslav army while trying to smuggle a refugee family into Albania.

Ms Becker, nicknamed `the Angel of Mostar' for her work during the Bosnian war, was being held in Lipljan, 25 km south of Pristina, where a Belgrade-based British diplomat, Mr David Slinn visited her.

Military officials quoted by the Serbian press centre in Pristina said Ms Becker, at the time of her arrest, had been trying to illegally cross the border from Kosovo into Albania with a group of Kosovo Albanian refugees.