Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serbs Hammer KLA in Hills, Sparking NATO Retaliation

KUKES, Albania -- Serbian gunners pounded Kosovo guerrillas along the Albanian border and U.S. armor-busting A-10 jets countered with strikes against the Serbs' hillside positions Monday.

NATO flew its largest number of sorties around the key border crossing area of Morini, nearly hitting the Serbian border checkpoint along the frontier.

Anti-aircraft and shoulder-fired missile fire was seen as the jets swooped in to attack the Serbs in daylong strikes, often coming at intervals of only five minutes. As many as half a dozen warplanes at a time, trailing flares to deflect the missiles, took part in the attacks.

With the United States refusing to deploy its premier tank-killing weapon, the Apache helicopter, the relatively low-flying A-10s are regarded as the most effective warplane in NATO's arsenal against tanks and entrenched positions.

An unknown number of wounded and dead guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, were evacuated to the Kukes hospital, but newsmen were barred from entering by armed guerrillas. The hospital is run by the Albanian government.

With the pro-independence guerrillas mounting new operations, security along Albania's northeastern border with Kosovo has deteriorated sharply in recent days, a United Nations spokesman said.

Gunfire echoed through the valley around Morini as refugees straggled through the battle area, some carrying reports of a recent massacre by Serbian police in a major KLA stronghold.

Several residents of the Drenica area in central Kosovo said Serb police last Wednesday morning broke into their houses, shooting residents, ordering others to Albania and burning homes.

"They robbed, massacred and forced us to leave our houses,'' said one man, who gave his name only as Ejup. A weeping, old woman said she witnessed some of the shooting and the beating of relatives by the police.

Similar unverifiable stories have been carried by refugees fleeing Kosovo. These have been denied by the Yugoslav government but authorities in Kosovo have admitted to clearing ethnic Albanians from areas infiltrated by the KLA.

"It's very worrying. The refugees are walking through five or six kilometers of what is effectively a war zone,'' UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Rupert Colville said at the Morini checkpoint, located 26 kilometers from Kukes. Colville said the incoming refugees were like "walking ducks if anyone wants to take a potshot at them.''