KLA rushes to fill security vacuum

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The Independent Online
SERBIAN FORCES are leaving Kosovo so fast that they may complete their withdrawal by noon today, 12 hours ahead of schedule, raising fears that the Kosovo Liberation Army will move into the security vacuum.

Senior Nato officers have been surprised by the sudden haste of the Serbs, and are drawing up plans to prevent any gaps between the Serbian departure and alliance forces getting into place. There are, however, signs that the KLA, too, is on the move in large numbers.

Negotiations are continuing between Nato and the KLA towards disarmament of the guerrillas, but there appear to be wide discrepancies among alliance powers in their dealings with the group. Both British and American forces have largely sought to disarm the KLA in their sectors, but the Germans appear to be giving them a lot more leeway. In and around Prizren, in south-western Kosovo, the guerrillas are still carrying guns, and in some areas are reported to be controlling distribution of fuel at the few petrol stations open. At a time of drastic fuel shortages, this gives them considerable leverage.

In the town of Kacanik, on the route south to Macedonia, the KLA has taken over one of the few buildings standing and is insisting that returning refugees should register with them. The same is said to be happening in many other towns, and Serbian civilians have repeatedly complained to Nato that they are being intimidated by the KLA.

The problems of bringing the KLA under Nato control are sure to concern the leaders of the world's richest countries, plus Russia, meeting at the G8 summit in Cologne. The leaders are promising sweeping aid for rebuilding Kosovo and the Balkans, but may warn today that not a penny of aid will go to Yugoslavia while Slobodan Milosevic remains in power.

On the second day of their annual summit, the G7 countries were seeking a strongly worded statement on Kosovo, making clear that Serbia would not qualify for aid until it embraced democratic reform. Russia was resisting, however. Referring to the evidence of atrocities coming to light daily, British officials warned that until the Serbian people repudiated those responsible, "they cannot expect our peoples who feel repulsed to come to their help".

War crimes investigators have begun their task of gathering evidence for future prosecutions. Two sites, believed to be near Prizren and Djakovica, have been visited for preliminary studies. The International War Crimes Tribunal wants to get as much of the investigation done as possible before the return of more than 800,000 refugees from Albania and Macedonia.

Yesterday the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said more than 100 bodies had been found at Velika Krusa in southwestern Kosovo, a five-fold increase from earlier estimates. The discovery, by a British forensic team led by Detective Chief Superintendent John Bunn, "bears out the reports we had from refugees", said Mr Cook.

The investigators intend to exhume bodies of atrocity victims who have already been reburied by relations. Paul Risley, a spokesman for the war crimes tribunal, said: "This is, of course, a delicate matter, but we have found in previous cases that the relations tend to understand the need for this. Examining the bodies would be immensely helpful. Bodies don't lie."

The US Secretary of State, William Cohen, visited suspected mass graves in the American sector of Kosovo yesterday, and President Bill Clinton is due in Macedonia on Tuesday.

Last night officials at the summit were starting to agree details on the "stability pact" for south-eastern Europe - in effect a Marshall Plan for the Balkans. Yesterday the EU approved a three-year 1.5bn euros (pounds 975m) emergency-aid programme. A conference of donor countries will be held in July, with a follow-up in the autumn to make a full assessment of the help required. Estimates range from $20bn (pounds 13bn) to $100bn (pounds 65bn) over a five-year period.