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Saturday Morning News

New Conflict May Arise in Kosovo

Aired March 10, 2001 - 9:08 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: In the Balkans, NATO peacekeeping forces in Kosovo are trying to keep troops from being pulled into a new conflict. At issue, new clashes between Macedonian troops and ethnic Albanians near the Kosovo border.

CNN's Chris Burns joins us by phone from Kriva Palanka in Macedonia with the latest. Chris?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Miles, we have a very, very dramatic scene here, a memorial service for yet another Macedonian policeman who's been killed in those clashes. Thousands of people have turned out in this town, including sobbing family members, policemen, and other loved ones who have come here to show their respects with flower bouquets and, in fact, in front of the cortege is a cousin of the man who died, who is sobbing and caressing his picture.

So a very, very dramatic scene here. They have arrived now at the church, where they will have a service for him. This man is, of course, the fifth policeman to die in these clashes, raising fears, shocking the country and raising fears that this could widen.

Macedonian troops have increased their patrols as well as Serb forces in southern Serbia, near the Kosovo border, also the same problem, ethnic Albanian rebels attacking them. Just yesterday, a Serbian police officer was killed and two others injured in a clash. This has raised fears, and of course prompted KFOR (ph) on the other side to increase its patrols, but there are still worries about really how much can be done to control the flow of men and weapons across that very mountainous, often very snowy, border, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Chris, let me ask you this. What is the current situation on the rules of engagement, so to speak, for the KFOR troops, the U.S. troops in particular? Are things changing, are they going to be in a more proactive stance as a result of this? And could they be inextricably pulled into some fighting here?

BURNS: Well, that is the worry, the worry about mission creep. It's very, very strong worry, and they are hoping that they can maintain it at a situation where they simply -- done for the last few months is arresting various rebels or those carrying weapons that are not permitted in Kosovo. They're hoping they can maintain it at that level. They have also, of course, increased their patrols along the borders, but, yes, there is that fear. NATO is hoping that by turning over that buffer zone that's in southern Serbia, buffer zone established since the Serb troops pulled out of Kosovo, that that would be phased back to the Serb forces. That is a haven at the moment where the rebels have been operating, and the hope is that perhaps the Serb police can bring that under control.

On the other hand, there is the fear that the violence could intensify, and also, yes, perhaps draw KFOR forces into that conflict unwillingly, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, let me ask you, Chris, and just -- Chris, in just talking to some of the U.S. troops who are actually patrolling those roads there, do you get the sense they feel their hands are tied somewhat here? Is the sense on the ground, so to speak, that they'd like to do more?

BURNS: Well, that is a good question. In fact, I've been here just a couple of days on the Macedonian side. The problem is, I can't go over the border, because the Macedonians have closed the border. I'm not allowed to cross into Kosovo at the moment because the Macedonians have closed that border in protest of the clashes, in protest that the KFOR is not doing enough to impede that passage of weapons and men.

So a very good question, and I hope to answer that in the coming days, Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Chris Burns, thanks very much. He joins us from Kriva Palanka, and obviously we wish him well and hope all our crews there are safe.

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