ANTHONY LOYDUS troops take on Kosovo rebels
March 17 2000
Pristina - American troops swept through villages in eastern Kosovo in a major operation to close down bases used by Albanian rebel groups active in neighbouring Serbia, it was disclosed yesterday.
In Kfor's first military operation against Nato's former allies, weapons, munitions and uniforms were seized on Wednesday and at least nine people arrested after airborne and ground troops surrounded five separate objectives along a 17-mile front.
The move by US forces comes after mounting international concern that Kosovo is being used as a staging post for Albanian guerrillas of the UCPMB. The splinter faction of the Kosovo Liberation Army has conducted a number of recent attacks inside Serbia and is now seen as a threat to the Kosovo peacekeeping mission.
The Americans sealed off five villages before clearing the areas of boobytraps. At least one of the cache sites was mined. The soldiers recovered crates of small arms and heavy machinegun ammunition, mortar tubes, hand grenades, mines, explosives, and medical and logistics supplies.
The successful operation marks the first time the casualty-conscious Americans have conducted a significant internal security task of their own in the province, and goes some way to heading off a Belgrade propaganda campaign aimed at their activities.
The Serb state-run news agency said on Wednesday that President Milosevic had accused the UN of financing terrorism in Serbia.
His remarks were the latest to cause fears among UN and Kfor officers of a Serbian move against the 60,000 to 70,000 Albanians who live inside Serbia, across Kosovo's eastern border, coinciding with the anniversary on March 24 of the start of Nato airstrikes.
"Just imagine if this was the scene television cameras caught on the 24th," one senior Western diplomat remarked. "Thousands of Albanian refugees streaming over the border into Kosovo under the eyes of US troops observing villages burning in the distance. People would ask: 'What did we go into Kosovo for?'"