Serb forces overrun Albanian rebels' HQ

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The Independent Online
SERB forces overran the former Albanian rebel headquarters in central Kosovo yesterday and appeared to have driven the secessionists from most of their remaining strongholds in the strategic region. A Serb police official said the offensive in Kosovo, which had uprooted 200,000 people and left hundreds dead, was "nearly over."

The remaining reports of fighting were only "final mopping-up operations" against ethnic Albanian militants and their remaining pockets of resistance. Later yesterday Serb forces entered the village of Likovac, where the US envoy Christopher Hill last week met commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Under sniper fire, Serb troops moved from house to house, clearing out pockets of resistance in the village and setting fire to Albanian houses and haystacks. Elsewhere in the region, KLA troops were fleeing advancing Serb forces. Serb sources said most of the fighting was centred on escape routes into Albania, where the rebels maintain sanctuaries.

In the provincial capital, Pristina, the Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova accused Serbs of molesting "hundreds" of Albanians in their prisons, which have become "mass camps." He said: "We are demanding international protection and we would appreciate any international intervention to stop the Serb war machinery," His aides said he spoke yesterday with the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who expressed support for his "peaceful policy" in resolving the crisis. The statement made no mention of any promise of US military intervention.

Mr Rugova declared yesterday a day of mourning for hundreds killed by the fighting in the Serbian offensive. About 2,500 Albanian women held a candlelight vigil in Pristina.

The UN refugee agency estimates 200,000 people have fled to Kosovo's woods and hills, and many lacking food, water and other essentials.

Officials fear that searing summer temperatures and a lack of hygiene could cause disease to set in.

In Washington the Pentagon said hundreds of Marines are to participate in Nato exercises in neighbouring Albania and Macedonia in coming months, starting with a one-week manoeuvre beginning in Albania on 17 August. A Nato spokesman at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels said plans for possible intervention in Kosovo were nearly complete.