Police battle guerrillas for control of Kosovo town

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) — Hundreds of Serb police battled secessionist guerrillas for control of a central Kosovo town Sunday, while refugees streamed into nearby hills to flee some of the worst fighting in the five-month conflict.
Meanwhile, the pro-government Serb Media Center in Pristina said that 20 ethnic Albanian rebel fighters were killed by Serb forces early Sunday after several hundred rebels tried to cross from Albania into Yugoslavia.
For their part, the rebels claimed to have killed 30 Serb police — and both sides claimed they controlled most of the town of Orahovac. With a population of 20,000, Orahovac is the largest town yet caught in the conflict.
Ethnic Albanians, who outnumber Serbs nine to one in Kosovo, are demanding independence from Serbia, the dominant republic of Yugoslavia.
Explosions and machine-gun fire echoed throughout the surrounding hills of Orahovac and several buildings were set on fire in the town about 30 miles southwest of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo province.
Reporters on the scene said it wasn’t clear if either force controlled the town amid the house-to-house fighting and shelling in one of the largest battles to date.
The Serb Media Center said Serbian security forces had gained “total control” of the center of Orahovac and were calling in telecommunication and other workers to restore the town’s infrastructure.
Witnesses said hundreds of refugees from nearby villages fled the area in tractors and trailers as police and the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army deployed snipers and heavy weapons throughout the wooded hills to battle for the third consecutive day.
The guerrilla offensive on Orahovac appeared aimed at expanding the estimated 30 percent of the Serbian province they hold.
An ethnic Albanian guerrilla commander claimed his fighters were using rocket launchers and vehicle-mounted machine guns to battle hundreds of police.
The commander claimed 200 Serb policemen were in the Orahovac police station, cut off from hundreds of reinforcements trying to reach the area.