Serbs Retake Kosovo Highway From Rebels

From Times Wire Services

Serbian forces drove ethnic Albanian rebels from a key highway linking Kosovo's two largest cities on Monday and surrounded a major insurgent stronghold near the Albanian border.

Serbian police and Yugoslav army troops encircled the western village of Junik, a major Kosovo Liberation Army base jammed with thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees. Ethnic Albanians make up 90% of the population in Kosovo, a province in southern Serbia.

Government forces gave civilians and KLA fighters one hour to leave by two corridors--one for civilians that led to police, the other for guerrillas that led to army positions.

Reporters at the scene said the deadline passed with no one leaving the village, 50 miles southwest of Kosovo's capital, Pristina. Serbian and Albanian forces began exchanging mortar fire as the reporters left the area at sunset.

Before leaving, the reporters saw eight bodies lying near a stream. Police said the eight people were shot Monday trying to cross into Albania.

Capping an offensive that began late Friday, Serbian police traveling westward from Pristina and eastward from the province's second-largest city, Pec, linked up Monday on the highway near the village of Kijevo, west of Pristina.

They showed reporters weapons and ammunition they had captured from the KLA, which had blocked the highway since May. The government's Tanjug news agency said the road would be reopened to routine civilian traffic as soon as booby traps were removed.

Serbian forces launched the offensive to clear strategic highways: the one from Pristina to Pec, another south to the town of Prizren and a third near Junik.

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