Serb forces cleared ethnic Albanian rebels Monday from a key highway linking Kosovo's two largest cities, opening a strategic route that had been blocked by separatist guerrillas since May.
Serb police traveling westward from this provincial capital and eastward from the province's second-largest city, Pec, linked up on the highway. They displayed weapons, ammunition and other materiel captured from the Kosovo Liberation Army.The Serb forces joined in the village of Kijevo, 30 miles west of Pristina. Kosovo is in southern Serbia, the dominant of two republics that make up Yugoslavia.
The offensive - the most widespread and coordinated Serb operation since April - appeared aimed at clearing KLA fighters from three strategic highways: the one from Pristina to Pec, another south to the town of Prizren and a third along the Albanian border in western Kosovo.
If successful, the operation would split the estimated one-third of the province under rebel control and block routes to their sanctuaries in neighboring Albania, from which the insurgents smuggle weapons.
Fighting continued Monday on the highway between Pristina and Prizren to the south. There were no reports about fighting along the third route.
Albanian analysts suggested that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was trying to deliver a blow to the rebels before agreeing to future talks with moderate Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova on the fate of the province.
The KLA has refused to endorse Rugova's leadership because he opposes violence to gain independence for Kosovo, whose population of 2 million people is 90 percent ethnic Albanian.