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Friday, April 9, 1999 Published at 19:40 GMT 20:40 UK

Analysis: KLA rides out the storm

KLA forces on the training ground

The BBC's South-east Europe analyst, Gabriel Partos asks what has happened to the Kosovo Liberation Army

Kosovo: Special Report
The activities of the Serbian security forces have taken a heavy toll on Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population, more than 400,000 of whom have fled or been expelled from Kosovo over the past two weeks. But it's not clear how much damage has been inflicted on the KLA which, for the past year, has been waging a full-scale guerrilla war for Kosovo's independence.

There are no outside observers left in Kosovo; and the few foreign journalists allowed in are operating under heavy restrictions imposed on them by the Belgrade authorities.

Duncan Kennedy: "The KLA is pressing Nato to supply them with arms"
KLA representatives say their fighters have retreated in the face of the recent Serb offensive into more remote areas, and they've been conducting a mainly defensive campaign. That's always been part of the KLA's tactics when facing a large-scale attack by an enemy with much greater firepower.

[ image: KLA has been protecting refugees inside Kosovo]
KLA has been protecting refugees inside Kosovo
The KLA's difficulties have been increased by the need to provide some kind of rudimentary protection for the mass of displaced Kosovo Albanians, many of whom are still inside Kosovo.

There can be little doubt that the KLA has suffered a number of setbacks and that the area under its control - at one stage last year nearly a third of Kosovo - has been greatly diminished.

This wouldn't have been the first time the KLA has been forced on the retreat. Following last summer's major Serbian offensive the KLA had been squeezed out of many areas of Kosovo.

But then during the ceasefire that followed in October the ethnic Albanian guerrillas recovered much ground by moving back to those predominantly Albanian-inhabited regions which had little, if any, Serb security presence.

[ image: KLA leader]
KLA leader
The Kosovo Albanians' newly-designated Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, has been credited with part of the success in rebuilding the KLA.

In some ways, the situation this time is much more difficult for the KLA. The Serb security forces' wholesale attack on Kosovar Albanians is linked, in part, to the recognition that any guerrilla army relies for its support and supplies on the local civilians.

There are now perhaps three times as many refugees as there were last year; and their absence deprives the KLA of much-needed backing.

Call to arms

At the same time reports are coming in of many Kosovo Albanian men of fighting age returning to Kosovo to answer the KLA's call for mobilisation - once they've taken their families to safety in neighbouring countries.

They are joining thousands of KLA fighters inside Kosovo. But for the most part, the KLA appears to be husbanding its resources while waiting for Nato's air strikes to weaken Yugoslavia's military capacity.

In that sense, Belgrade's refusal to accept the Contact Group's peace plan, triggering air strikes, has turned a reluctant Nato into the KLA's air force.

As to what's happening on the ground, reports remain, at best sketchy.

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