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NATO Disarms, Seizes Kosovo Rebels

June 18, 1999

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ With KLA rebels trying to expand their presence in Kosovo, NATO peacekeepers seized a weapons cache and took 25 rebel members into custody Friday after finding mistreated prisoners at a police station. One elderly man was found dead, chained to a chair.

NATO pledged to put more military police on the streets to reinforce its authority and make the troubled province safe for Serbs who are fleeing by the thousands.

Serbs, however, reported Kosovo Liberation Army attacks across the province. German peacekeepers detained the 25 guerrilla members and rescued 15 battered Gypsies and ethnic Albanians in Prizren in what they said may be a KLA torture chamber for alleged collaborators.

Russian and U.S. negotiators, meanwhile, reached agreement on Russia’s role in the peacekeeping mission after three days of meetings in Helsinki, Finland.

The United States, France, Britain, Germany and Italy have divided Kosovo into five sectors for peacekeeping that Russia wants to be part of. The Helsinki negotiations had been stuck on the question of giving Russia a ``zone of responsibility″ in Kosovo until Friday’s agreement.

Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin played a substantial role in persuading Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accept the peace agreement and Russia’s participation in peacekeeping is seen as important.

KLA rebels killed three Serbs in central Novo Selo and southern Kosovska Kamenica, and kidnapped 18 Serbs in villages near Pristina, the Serb Media Center reported. The report could not be independently confirmed.

German peacekeepers taking over a police station from the rebels in Kosovo’s second-largest city found 15 Gypsies and ethnic Albanians, many of them chained to radiators, most of them bruised and bloody. They also found an elderly man chained to a chair who appeared to have died just before the Germans arrived, said German army spokesman Lt. Col. Dietmar Jeserich.

The Prizren police station, which had been in the hands of the KLA since early this week, also contained grenades, machine guns, mortars and shells _ and spike-studded truncheons.

Reports of abuse and violence multiplied: a Serb couple found dead on their home’s doorstep, a 16-year-old Serb killed in a country road ambush.

Up to 50,000 Serb civilians have already left Kosovo and the rest are increasingly fearful as Serb troops pull out to comply with last week’s peace deal. Already, three-quarters of the 40,000 troops once in the province have left and the remainder are due out by midnight Sunday.

The leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church came to the city of Pec, the church’s birthplace, pleading with his flock to follow his example and remain in what Serbs consider the cradle of their culture.

But the German forces responsible for southwestern Kosovo said that in Orahovac, 30 miles southwest of Pristina, a delegation led by Lt. Col. Gen. Obrad Stevanovic of the Serbian special police was urging the last 3,000 Serbs in town to leave.

Across the province, Serb civilians seemed increasingly eager to listen to such talk.

In the eastern town of Pasjane, after KLA members pulled two Serbs from their car and beat them savagely, a group of Serbs surrounded a U.S. Marine checkpoint where the men were taken, demanding that the peacekeepers protect them.

``You made the security leave _ now you have to replace it!″ one Serb shouted.

NATO began to respond to those demands, setting up roadblocks in Pristina and seizing dozens of weapons. At one checkpoint, soldiers reached into civilian cars and fished out rifles, grenades and ammunition clips.

While German troops had let rebels bring guns in across the Albanian border only a day earlier, commanders said they were cracking down, and banned rebels from carrying weapons in Prizren as of midnight Friday.

South of Pristina, a Royal Irish regiment took 50 weapons from a group of Kosovo rebels on Thursday, British Maj. Gen Richard Dannatt said.

He said NATO forces have called in more military police to help restore order and to fill a ``vacuum″ left by the departure of the Serb police.

The Yugoslav foreign ministry’s liaison with the peacekeepers, Nebojsa Vujovic, met with the force’s commander, British Gen. Mike Jackson, and said he recognized that the peacekeepers were trying to crack down on the rebels.

``Gen. Jackson publicly promised the international troops would absolutely protect the safety of every Serb, Montenegrin and other non-Albanian national threatened by the terrorists,″ he said, according to the government Tanjug news agency.

The allied nations and the international war crimes tribunal for Yugoslavia also agreed Friday that the peacekeepers will take an active role in bringing suspected war criminals to justice. Milosevic and four top aides were indicted last month on war crime charges.

Chief prosecutor Louise Arbour of Canada said the allies’ role in dealing with suspected war criminals will be ``considerably different″ from that of the NATO-led force in Bosnia that has been criticized for not detaining indicted Serb leaders.

Meanwhile, ethnic Albanian refugees continued to pour back into Kosovo on cars, trucks and tractors. About 50,000 had returned by Thursday night and thousands more streamed across the borders on Friday, the U.N. refugee agency said.

British Rear Adm. Simon Moore said peacekeepers were helping to restore water and electricity, cut off to much of Kosovo by NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign and Serb’s destruction.

``Over the next few days priorities will include water, power supplies and other key elements for the infrastructure,″ he said.

The evidence of Serb atrocities during NATO’s bombing campaign continued to mount as well. The discoveries were all too familiar: a well filled with decomposing bodies; a prison filled with apparent instruments of torture.

Villagers in Dragacin, north of Prizren, told German troops that the well was filled with the bodies of 11 elderly men killed in late April. When Serb troops approached, young men fled into the woods and the Serbs ordered the women and children to leave. The old men have never been found. The Germans found one body and sealed off the area.

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