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Peacekeepers, UN Police Come Under Fire in Kosovo - 2002-08-30

NATO-led peacekeepers and United Nations police in the Serbian province of Kosovo have come under fire from ethnic Albanian gunmen. The incident has been described as the most serious attack since the U.N. mission arrived in Kosovo in 1999.

United Nations officials say Serbian farmers working in their fields and U.N. police officers protecting them, came under fire late Thursday from ethnic Albanian gunmen.

The incident happened in the village of Gorazdevac, about 90 kilometers west of the troubled province's capital, Pristina. U.N. Spokesman Andrea Angeli told reporters that the situation was brought under control by the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, K-FOR, after a fierce gun battle that lasted more than two hours.

The UN representative said that, at the request of U.N. policemen, Italian troops from K-FOR arrived at the scene. After they, too, came under fire, a team of special troops came by helicopter and finally forced the gunmen to flee.

One ethnic Albanian gunman was reportedly arrested, and a search continues for other suspects.

Officials say no one was injured. But they say several U.N. vehicles were hit by bullets.

The attack comes amid growing tensions between the international community and the mainly ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo. Albanians have expressed anger over the recent arrest by U.N. police of former leaders of the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army. The ethnic-Albanians are also angry about efforts to bring back many of the estimated 200,000 Serb refugees.

Western diplomats are increasingly frustrated over ethnic Albanian violence, which has also spread across the border into the neighboring former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

On Friday, Macedonia's government was sending armored personnel carriers to a region near the capital, Skopje, where ethnic Albanian gunmen kidnapped five Macedonian Slavs. Interior Ministry officials say the assailants took their hostages from a passenger bus late Thursday, outside the town of Gostivar, about 60 kilometers west of the capital.

The gunmen reportedly kidnapped eight people but then apparently released three of them, including two ethnic Albanians and one Macedonian Slav.

A NATO official has told reporters that the kidnappers have threatened to execute their remaining hostages, unless the authorities release three Albanians who were arrested in connection with killings of two Macedonian policemen Monday.

Analysts say the latest developments threaten to undermine a Western-backed peace agreement, which ended the ethnic fighting in Macedonia a year ago.