Serbs pull out on deadline

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THERE WAS abundant evidence yesterday that the threat of Nato's big guns had finally persuaded President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw substantial numbers of special police and army units from the contested central area of Kosovo, hours before the latest Alliance deadline expires today.

Hundreds of police and dozens of army vehicles, including tanks, were seen leaving the Drenica region in a convincing display of departure.

Kosovo's separatist rebels, who had moved in to one position within minutes of the Serbian police withdrawal, were grinning as they surveyed the debris left at the petrol station commandeered as a fortified police post in Dragobil. "It's our place, we feel good to be back," one young man bearing the red badge of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) said with a smile.

Yesterday's pull-out came after a new agreement was negotiated by Nato supreme commander, General Wesley Clark, at the weekend during marathon talks in Belgrade with Mr Milosevic. The Foreign Secretary Robin Cook yesterday insisted that the agreement made no concessions to the Yugoslav strongman.

For those used to Mr Milosevic's bluffs, the sight of a bulldozer piling into the sandbags around a police cabin, heart of the check-point at Komorane, was compelling. From this site at a strategic cross-roads, policemaintained a presence so visible and audible that refugees from villages nearby have preferred to live under plastic in the mountains than risk going home. Several Serb police, however, have been killed in recent days by KLA raids from the hills.

"They're withdrawing," said one man, who refused to say if he was a policeman. Did he think it was a good idea? "No, not for me," he said. "It's not a safe road any more." This despite a police statement assuring citizens that forces will maintain the security of the area's roads - news guaranteed to worry ethnic Albanians in the region.

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