War in the Balkans: Strategy: Refugees shelter in KLA strongholds

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The Independent Online
THE KOSOVO Liberation Army is providing sanctuary for thousands of refugees inside new pockets of resistance in Kosovo, Nato said yesterday, as it sought to switch attention back to the plight of the province's Albanian population.

The alliance also called for a war-crimes investigation into the apparent murder of a prominent ethnic Albanian leader, Fehmi Agani, reports of whose death surfaced over the weekend.

Despite the international furore over the Chinese embassy bombing, Nato continued its air bombardment of Serb military targets, but avoided direct attacks on the Yugoslav capital. The alliance's military authority blamed poor weather for a scaled-down offensive on Saturday night, but insisted that more 500 sorties were flown, with Pristina airport being among the targets hit. Yugoslavia's state-run news agency said the alliance had attacked army positions yesterday with cluster bombs in the western Kosovo town of Djakovica. Nato, promising to continue the bombardment, attempted to highlight the plight of the refugees in Kosovo, arguing that their fate had prompted the air campaign in the first place. It also rejected the idea that it should be in the dock over the Chinese embassy bombing. Asked if the action had broken international law, the Nato spokesman, Jamie Shea, said: "The violation of international law in Kosovo is on one side - and that's Belgrade's." General Walter Jertz, Nato's military spokesman, said the regions where hundreds of thousands of displaced Kosovo Albanians were sheltering "very often coincide with many of the (KLA) controlled areas. In fact it, appears some sanctuary is being provided for these unfortunate people within these areas."

Because the Rambouillet peace accord called for the eventual disarming of the KLA along with the removal of Serb military and police, Nato has rejected suggestions that it is actively supporting the guerrillas.

That was repeated yesterday as the alliance highlighted news of the death of Mr Agani, which first surfaced on Saturday but was overshadowed by the Nato's mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

Mr Agani, an ally of the moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, was found dead in a Kosovo village and, although Serb reports blamed the KLA, Nato yesterday reinforced Albanians' claims that Serbian police or paramilitaries were responsible.

Mr Shea said a number of Nato members had demanded a full investigation into the death Mr Agani, adding that those responsible must be punished and that the available evidence pointed to the Serbs as culprits. "It looks like yet another case for the International Tribunal in The Hague," Mr Shea added.

The alliance said that family members had now identified Mr Agani's body, quoting his son in support of accounts that the political leader had been removed from a train as he attempted to leave Kosovo for Macedonia.

Other accounts indicated that Mr Agani, his wife and his son were on a train from Pristina which Serb authorities turned back at the Blace border crossing on Thursday after Macedonia temporarily shut the frontier.

Serbian police stopped the train at Lipljane on its way back to Pristina, and detained Mr Agani but let his wife and son go on.