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Tuesday, May 11, 1999 Published at 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK


'KLA still fighting fit'

Nato says the KLA has at leat 14 strongholds

By BBC South-East Europe Analyst Gabriel Partos

The Yugoslav Army's statement that it had completed its operations against the Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA, amounted to an implicit claim that the KLA had been defeated.

Kosovo: Special Report
There is little doubt that in recent weeks the KLA has taken a heavy battering at the hands of Serbian security forces.

Yet reports of the KLA's demise appear to be premature.

The KLA has continued to provide some protection for the thousands of Kosovo Albanians who have fled to the more remote regions of the province.

Nato claims there are 14 such strongholds still under KLA control.

That kind of information is difficult to confirm since much of it is based on reports from the KLA itself.

But there is firm evidence of the KLA's success in at least one region - near the border with Albania where a month ago it captured a Yugoslav army barracks in the village of Kosare.

Fight back

Since then, the KLA has been able to establish - for the first time since fighting started 15 months ago - a proper supply route into Kosovo.

These days lorries carry fighters and material instead of the traditional method of crossing the border on foot and taking supplies on mules.

The KLA may have been dealt a series of severe blows, but it appears to be getting ready to fight back.

The same claim about the KLA's defeat had been made back in October when Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic averted threatened Nato air strikes by agreeing to reduce the strength of Serbian forces based in Kosovo.

On that occasion, the KLA subsequently walked back without a fight into many areas vacated by the Serbian units. And within weeks the Serbian forces were once again building up their strength and launching fresh offensives against the Kosovo Albanians.

KLA denial

The leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army inside Kosovo, Agim Ceku has dismissed statements by Belgrade that Serb forces had defeated the KLA.

He told the BBC Albanian service that the KLA was stronger than ever and it was the Serb army that was in disarray as a result of KLA activity and Nato bombing.

He also dismissed Serb statements that they were withdrawing their forces, saying there was no sign of this. He said it was a ploy to try to stop Nato bombing.

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