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Serb forces attack Kosovo guerrillas on 3 fronts

SHARE Serb forces attack Kosovo guerrillas on 3 fronts

In one of their largest operations to date, Serb forces attacked ethnic Albanian guerrillas Saturday on at least three fronts, pressing the rebels near their rural strongholds and along Kosovo's major transport links.

Albanian politicians called on the United States and the European Union to intervene with the Yugoslav government to halt the offensive in the southern province.Serb and Albanian sources reported fighting along the main highway linking the provincial capital, Pristina, with Pec, about 45 miles west near the border with Albania. South of there, Albanian sources said, police were trying to advance on Malisevo, a main stronghold of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

A second Serb thrust was under way along the road between Pristina and Prizren, 40 miles south, the two sides said.

The Albanian Kosovo Information Center said Serb police also were attacking in western Kosovo, along the highway parallel to the Albanian border over which the rebels smuggle weapons.

The Albanians said at least one Albanian was killed and another wounded in the Malisevo fighting, along with at least 10 Serb policemen. They said at least seven Albanians were wounded in other fighting.

The Serbs gave no casualty count, and the Albanian claim could not be independently confirmed.

The fighting appeared to be the most widespread, coordinated attacks since April, when government forces attacked rebel positions on several fronts.

Hundreds of people have died and tens of thousands of others have fled their homes since the fighting began.

Sources close to the military, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the operations were designed to secure major communications and transportation links and to contain the KLA, which is fighting for independence for Kosovo.

If true, the operations could be designed in part to make the KLA more amenable to allowing moderate ethnic Albanian politicians to begin talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on the province's future.

Most people in Kosovo, 90 percent of which is ethnic Albanian, prefer independence. Milosevic has offered to restore autonomy, which he withdrew in 1989, but opposes independence.

The United States and the Europeans also oppose independence but hope a compromise can be worked out once the fighting stops.

Serbia and Montenegro together form the Yugoslav federation.

The latest attacks began as the United States stepped up its diplomatic efforts to arrange peace talks. U.S. envoy Christopher Hill met Friday with moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova.

In a statement Saturday, Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo said the Serb offensive would aggravate an "already explosive situation."

"We call on the United States, NATO, the United Nations and European Union to urgently put pressure and take decisive steps against Belgrade to stop the offensive," the party said.

The Americans and Europeans are promoting Rugova as a leader of the Albanian side in future talks because he opposes violence.