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Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 02:39 GMT 03:39 UK

World: Europe

Behind the scenes with the KLA

His colleagues mourn him as a martyr for independence

By Special Correspondent Ben Brown

For now at least, the only ground troops fighting the Serbs are the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Kosovo: Special Report
But things are not going well for them.

One of their commanders has just been shot and badly wounded by a Serbian sniper.

Ben Brown gains exclusive access to latest KLA footage
The injured man is Abas Thaci - if the Serbs knew who they had hit they would be delighted.

He is from the same family as the KLA's overall leader, Hashim Thaci.

The medical team gave their fallen commander rudimentary treatment, and carried him away from the front line.

Later, though, he died from his wounds.

"Words cannot describe his courage," said one of his fellow commanders. "

They have shot my friend, but we are going to take revenge and we are going to set Kosovo free."

Later, in his bunker he wrote in his diary that losing the man was like losing his right arm.

Away from the heat of battle, there was time at last to grieve.

Death toll mounts

For the dead man's colleagues, he will go down as yet another martyr in the cause of Kosovo's independence.

[ image: The KLA fight on - but the casualties mount]
The KLA fight on - but the casualties mount
But he is also another statistic in the rapidly rising death toll of this war.

The KLA know it is a war they cannot win alone.

Rebel sources say they are helping Nato pinpoint Serb positions, so they can be bombed.

Occasionally it goes wrong - we were shown one part of the forest where Nato planes were said to have attacked the KLA by mistake.

Still, the rebels are grateful for any air support that is on offer.

The rebels of the KLA certainly need all the help they can get.

They are struggling in their war with the Serbs.

Rather than trying to win back territory they have lost, they may have to settle for defending what they have left, in the hope that sooner or later Nato ground troop also be sent in.

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