Troops Involved in the Balkans

Armed struggles for more ethnic Albanian rights in southern Serbia and neighboring Macedonia threaten to draw U.S. and other peacekeepers into a new Balkans war. The main players:

Southern Serbia: The black-uniformed Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac is active in the three-mile wide buffer zone adjoining the Serbian province of Kosovo, which was set up to insulate NATO-led peacekeepers from the Yugoslav army.

Because only lightly armed Serb police were allowed, the rebels had operated with relative impunity among the area's 60,000-member ethnic Albanian community. The guerrillas demand self-determination — which could include efforts to link up with Kosovo ahead of hoped-for independence for the ethnic Albanian-majority province.

More heavily armed Yugoslav units moved into the southernmost tip of the zone Wednesday under a NATO-sanctioned accord meant to curb the rebel threat and the movement of fighters and supplies to guerillas in Macedonia. A cease-fire is in effect, and talks between Serbia and ethnic Albanian leaders are set for next week.

Macedonia: Calling themselves the National Liberation Army, black-uniformed fighters have been clashing with Macedonian border troops since mid-February in a strip of land abutting Kosovo.

As in the buffer zone, the fighters say they are struggling for greater rights for Macedonia's ethnic Albanians, which make up about a quarter of the country's 2 million people. But there are fears that the goal is again to link predominantly ethnic Albanian border areas to Kosovo as part of an overall independence plan.

Kosovo: The Serbian province has been spared major fighting since NATO and the United Nations established control in mid-1999. But ethnic violence is common, and Kosovo supplies fighters and weapons for both the southern Serbian and Macedonian insurgencies, reflecting the common cause of militants in all three regions.

Seeking to cut off supplies, NATO moved U.S. and other peacekeepers close to the border with Macedonia in early March.