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Sunday, April 25, 1999 Published at 19:39 GMT 20:39 UK

World: Europe

KLA pleads for arms

KLA volunteers heading for the frontline in northern Albania

The Kosovo Liberation Army has begged Nato to arm its guerrillas and offered to lead an Alliance ground invasion against Serb forces.

Kosovo: Special Report
The rebel force made the appeal at its first news conference since the start of Nato's bombing raids on Yugoslavia.

A KLA commander identified only as 'Leopard II' said: "We are urgently asking for help in obtaining modern arms."

He also called for the US's Apache helicopters to start strikes as soon as possible.

[ image: Battle lines inside Kosovo
Battle lines inside Kosovo "change daily"
"If we had better arms, and Nato began using the Apache helicopters, I am sure that we would help lead the operation.

"We would welcome close contact, fighting together in Kosovo."

He said the KLA's experience could help reduce casualties on the ground.

Nato has so far refused to arm the rebels.

In the briefing at Kukes, northern Albania, on Sunday, Leopard II said the KLA controlled much of northern Kosovo but refused to be drawn on how many fighters were involved, or how many casualties the rebels had suffered.

The figure was "higher on their side than on ours" he said.

Reports of ethnic cleansing

He said the Serbs controlled the rest of Kosovo and there was regular fighting on a number of fronts, including in the Orahovac region of southern Kosovo and the Koshare region.

The KLA's supply routes were also under constant attack, he said.

"There are some units inside Kosovo who are unarmed and are trying to get to regions where the KLA is in control, and they are being shot," he said.

"That is why we are asking Nato to give us arms."

He said there were still signs of widespread ethnic cleansing, with villages set on fire.

Many Kosovo Albanians are having to hide in mountain shelters with little food and water, he added.

Serbs deny allegations

KLA spokesman Gani Sylaj said his forces had evidence of recent crimes and massacres including the murder of 61 people in the village of Poklek, 51 in Koliq and more than 160 in the Izbica of Skenderaj.

"The Serbian war machinery makes Kosovo one very big concentration camp," he said.

Reports on the alleged atrocities have been hard to verify, with most foreign journalists barred from Serbia. The Serbs have denied all such allegations.

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