War In The Balkans: KLA makes a public plea for weapons

Freedom Fight
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A MAN codenamed "Leopard 2" appealed to Nato yesterday to send weapons, Apache helicopters and ground troops into Kosovo at the first press conference held by the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Leopard, a KLA officer, was accompanied by the first information minister of the self-styled Kosovo government in an attempt to raise the public profile of a guerrilla army that is clearly struggling against superior Yugoslav forces.

The minister, Gani Sylaj, read out a list of people killed in a series of villages ethnically cleansed by Serbian troops and police, claiming a mass grave containing 160 bodies had been found at Izbica. It is thought the Izbica grave may be the same as that photographed during Nato's satellite reconnaissance last week.

What was significant, however, was the KLA's decision to lift the veil of secrecy that had hitherto surrounded it. Until yesterday, coverage had been restricted to private briefings and occasional statements from representatives of Hashim Thachi, the KLA leader.

One reason for the decision to go public might be the battering that KLA forces appear to be taking. When it was pointed out that a hospital at Bajram Curri in northern Albania, close to the Kosovo border, was full of KLA soldiers, Mr Sylaj said many had been wounded while making their way from areas inside Kosovo where they had run out of ammunition.

"We have to deal with 40,000 Serb police and paramilitaries and every day, they burn, they kill, they rape," he said. "We want to use our first press conference to appeal to Nato to send in the Apache helicopters as soon as possible."

"Leopard" gave details of fighting near Orahovac, where the KLA seized some light weapons and vehicles from the Serbs, and at Pashtrik, where it killed 10 Serb policemen and captured a large amount of ammunition.

He was unable to say how much of the province was held by the KLA - previous estimates have put it at about 30 per cent - because the situation was so fluid, with areas being won and lost in days. In Llap, however, north- east of Pristina, he said KLA forces held 70 per cent of the region.

He said that with more support from Nato his forces could do better. "The things we urgently want to ask Nato for are modern arms supplies for the KLA," he said. "At the same time, we are asking Nato to start using the Apache helicopters to strike the Serbian forces, and for ground troops to go with us together into Kosovo. This is why we are asking for arms for the KLA [before a Nato ground offensive], so that casualties among Nato ground troops will be as low as possible."

In some of the grimmest accounts to emerge so far, Kosovo refugees reaching Macedonia yesterday reported Serbian paramilitaries were killing residents dozens at a time. "It's very alarming," said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. He said towns in southern Kosovo had been emptied "with clinical precision".

The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said Nato missiles hit the north-eastern industrial area of Nis early yesterday, causing extensive damage. Five other missiles hit a chemical plant in Lucani, about 60 miles south of Belgrade, Serb media said. The news agency also reported that a six-year- old girl had been killed by a Nato missile in Velika Dobranja, south of Kosovo's provincial capital, Pristina. The child, Arta Lugic, was playing in the back yard of her family home when she was killed.

Cornelio Sommaruga, head of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, visited Serbia's second largest city, Novi Sad, yesterday where he saw the results of the Nato strikes that have destroyed all three of the city's bridges over the Danube.

Mr Sommaruga is scheduled to meet Slobodan Milosevic today, hoping to secure the return of his organisation to Kosovo. Red Cross staff withdrew after the air strikes began. Also on the agenda will be the ICRC's plea for immediate access to three US servicemen held by Yugoslav army since their capture 31 March.

Serbian state television resumed broadcasting yesterday afternoon after being knocked off the air for the second time in three days. The Belgrade- based BK station reported that the Yugoslav Foreign Minister, Zivadin Jovanovic, had written to the chairman of the UN Security Council describing the Nato attacks as the most flagrant violation of the UN charter since the international body was founded.

"The Security Council must take concrete measures to end the aggression, as a contribution to creating the conditions for bringing back peace and stability to the region and resolving the problem by political means," Mr Jovanovic wrote. He also accused Nato of choosing civilian targets, which had produced a flood of refugees.