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World - Europe

Serb troops withdraw as NATO faces weapons problem in Kosovo

Soldier
Tension between the Serbs and ethnic Albanians is a major obstacle for NATO peacekeepers

 
 MILITARY PLAN:
Focus on
Kosovo
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 ALSO:
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U.N. wants 2 weeks before Kosovar refugees return

 MESSAGE BOARD:
Crisis in Kosovo
 IN-DEPTH SPECIAL:
Focus on Kosovo

Hundreds of thousands of weapons reportedly in civilian hands

June 20, 1999
Web posted at: 8:50 p.m. EDT (0050 GMT)


In this story:

Midnight deadline

Reports of atrocities continue

KLA soldiers reluctant to disarm

Russian presence could stem Serb fears

Returning refugees face mine hazards

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- NATO said Sunday that the withdrawal of Serb forces was taking place on schedule, and in some sectors the withdrawal was ahead of the deadline.

But as Yugoslav troops rumbled out of Kosovo, NATO faced new dilemmas: the reviving power of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and the problem of armed civilians.

CNN's Richard Blystone said that NATO peacekeepers estimate that hundreds of thousands of weapons remain in civilian hands.

Gunshots were heard in Pristina during daylight hours, and NATO troops undertook gun searches.

As some KLA members insisted they would continue to pursue independence from Yugoslavia in Kosovo, NATO troops confiscated arm bands from KLA members, informing them that NATO would be the sole remaining military force in Kosovo.

The peacekeepers found that keeping the peace in Kosovo can be a dangerous task. They set up roadblocks after it was reported that two prominent Serbs had been kidnapped, and broke into the apartment of a man who was reportedly implicated in the killing of ethnic Albanian children.

No evidence connecting the man to the killings was found, military officials said.

Midnight deadline

After more than a year of bloody conflict on the ground and devastating strikes from the air, the Yugoslav military presence in Kosovo is scheduled to finally come to an end Sunday.

Under terms of a disarmament plan for the troubled province approved June 9, all Yugoslav security forces must be out by midnight Sunday (2200 GMT, 6 p.m. EDT).

"We do expect that they will have vacated the area ahead of the agreed schedule," said KFOR spokesman Lt. Col. Robin Clifford.

Gunshot
An ethnic Albanian was reportedly wounded by a sniper  

Reports of atrocities continue

Reports of suspected war crimes continued to emerge.

The body of a 62-year-old ethnic Albanian from Kosovo was among a dozen pulled from a well in Dragacina, near Prizren, on Saturday, by German NATO troops, as NATO peacekeepers continued to discover sites of the reported atrocities.

As the Yugoslav troops leave, more evidence emerged Saturday of atrocities committed in Kosovo.

A suspected mass grave site was found just outside the village of Izbica. Witnesses told international war crimes investigators that they saw Yugoslav forces rounding up and shooting ethnic Albanians at the site near the end of March.

People who escaped the alleged massacre say that as many as 150 bodies may be buried at the Izbica site.

The Yugoslav pullout has triggered a mass exodus of ethnic Serbs from Kosovo. Clifford said that between 25,000 to 40,000 Serbs may have fled, though "it's extremely difficult to know exactly how many."

The Serbs fear retaliation from members of the ethnic Albanian KLA. It was the KLA's armed struggle against the Yugoslav government in the predominantly ethnic Albanian province that triggered a military crackdown in February 1998, beginning a chain of events that led to NATO airstrikes.

KLA
KLA says it is protecting ethnic Albanians  

KLA soldiers reluctant to disarm

KLA members agreed to demilitarize as part of the peace framework for Kosovo worked out between NATO and the Yugoslav government. But some KLA members have vowed not to lay down their weapons, saying they consider themselves a legitimate army guaranteeing Kosovo's security and independence.

While NATO soldiers in Pristina have ordered KLA soldiers on the streets of the provincial capital to remove their armbands, in other locations, however, armed KLA members dressed in camouflage drill openly, in sight of KFOR troops, disquieting both Serb civilians and KFOR commanders.

Representatives of KFOR and the KLA have been negotiating over demilitarization and are reportedly near an agreement. Whether guerrillas in the field will go along with any deal calling for them to lay down their weapons remains an open question.

At least one KLA commander told CNN that his forces would "never disarm." The guerrillas, CNN has learned, are willing to drop their military activities, but they want to hold onto their weapons.

Russian presence could stem Serb fears

Under an agreement signed Friday in Helsinki, Finland, by Russian and U.S. leaders, about 3,600 Russian troops will take part in KFOR, serving in sectors controlled by German, French and American forces.

However, the Russian soldiers, while taking direction from KFOR, will remain under the ultimate command of Russian military and political leaders.

KFOR leaders hope the presence of the Russian troops will reassure Serbs that they are safe in Kosovo and stem the current exodus.

As part of the agreement, the Russians also agreed to allow other KFOR participants to have access to Pristina's airport, which had been seized by a small contingent of Russian soldiers on June 12. The airfield, closed since the NATO air campaign began, is expected to reopen in a few days.

Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin told the Itar-Tass news agency that his country would be "most actively and directly involved" in Kosovo, including disarming "illegal groups" -- a reference to the KLA, which Russia and Yugoslavia consider a terrorist organization.

Returning refugees face mine hazards

Tens of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees have crossed back into Kosovo, but that is only a fraction of the estimated 1 million ethnic Albanians who fled the province as NATO bombed Yugoslav forces it accused of carrying out a government-sanctioned "ethnic cleansing" policy.

Relief agencies are pleading for the refugees to wait until their safety can be assured.

"The refugees should stay where they are until NATO and the UNHCR and other organizations say it's safe," said NATO spokesman Capt. Wolfgang Greven.

Dozens of refugees have been wounded by mines or booby traps, Greven said. NATO is now producing special television ads to warn refugees of the problem.

Correspondents Richard Blystone, Matthew Chance, Jim Clancy and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.


RELATED STORIES:
G-8 nations to tackle Third World debt
June 18, 1999
Agreement reached on Russian role in Kosovo force
June 18, 1999
Yugoslav forces meet second withdrawal deadline
June 18, 1999
U.N. wants 2 weeks before Kosovar refugees return
June 18, 1999
Returning refugees find gruesome remains in wrecked Kosovo
June 17, 1999
U.S., Russia extend talks on Russian role in KFOR
June 17, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Yugoslavia:
  • Federal Republic of Yugoslavia official site
      • Kesovo and Metohija facts
  • Serbia Ministry of Information
  • Serbia Now! News

Kosovo:
  • Kosova Crisis Center
  • Kosovo - from Albanian.com

Military:
  • NATO official site
  • BosniaLINK - U.S. Dept. of Defense
  • U.S. Navy images from Operation Allied Force
  • U.K. Ministry of Defence - Kosovo news
  • U.K. Royal Air Force - Kosovo news
  • Jane's Defence - Kosovo Crisis


Resettlement Agencies Helping Kosovars in U.S.:
  • Church World Service
  • Episcopal Migration Ministries
  • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
  • Iowa Department of Human Services
  • International Rescue Committee
  • Immigration and Refugee Services of America
  • Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
  • United States Catholic Conference

Relief:
  • World Relief
  • Doctors without borders
  • U.S. Agency for International Development (Kosovo aid)
  • Doctors of the World
  • InterAction
  • International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Kosovo Humanitarian Disaster Forces Hundreds of Thousands from their Homes
  • Catholic Relief Services
  • Kosovo Relief
  • ReliefWeb: Home page
  • The Jewish Agency for Israel
  • Mercy International
  • UNHCR


Media:
  • Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
  • Independent Yugoslav radio stations B92
  • Institute for War and Peace Reporting
  • United States Information Agency - Kosovo Crisis

Other:
  • Expanded list of related sites on Kosovo
  • 1997 view of Kosovo from space - Eurimage
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