Gunmen Fire at U.S. Peacekeepers

Gunmen fired shots at U.S. peacekeepers during a military operation to detain suspected ethnic Albanian rebels entering Kosovo from Macedonia, the NATO-led peacekeeping force said Wednesday. No one was injured. 

The gunfire erupted Tuesday night when someone hiding in a wooded area where the peacekeepers were on patrol shouted ``NATO, NATO, help!,'' said Maj. Randy Martin, spokesman for U.S. peacekeepers in Kosovo.

``When one of our sergeants stood up, there were several bursts of rifle fire,'' Martin said. He said the soldiers returned fire and the suspects fled the scene.

None of the peacekeepers was injured in the incident, which happened in the village of Gornje Zlokucane, about 30 miles southeast of Pristina, near the border with Macedonia. It was unclear who the gunmen were, Martin said.

U.S. peacekeepers detained 32 suspected rebels in the same area Tuesday night. The suspects, who were traveling in two groups, were sent to a detention facility at Camp Bondsteel, the main U.S. base in Kosovo, spokesman Howard Rhoades said.

Peacekeepers have detained about 800 suspected rebels since border patrols were stepped up in mid-June. About 170 remain detained at Bondsteel, and the rest have been handed over to U.N. police, Martin said.

Some of the suspected rebels are released once they are screened and determined not to pose a security threat in Kosovo, he said.

As NATO's mission to collect weapons surrendered voluntarily by ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia began early this week, many insurgents headed for Kosovo, a predominantly ethnic Albanian province of Yugoslavia.

Peacekeepers said most of the rebels appear to have left their weapons and equipment in Macedonia and were headed to Kosovo after being released from duty by their commanders. There was no sign of any large movement of weapons from Macedonia into Kosovo, officials said.

Kosovo is widely believed to be a main supply and transit route for Macedonia's ethnic Albanian rebels. The militants took up arms in February, saying they want more rights for their community, which accounts for up to a third of Macedonia's population of 2 million.

NATO's mission to collect weapons voluntarily handed over by the rebels in Macedonia is part of a peace plan aiming to end six months of conflict.