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Yugoslavia: Serbs Move Troops South To Fight UCK

Brussels, 19 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - NATO says the Yugoslav army is apparently moving about 150,000 troops toward the border with Albania to fight the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK). A NATO spokesman said there were reports of heavy fighting at several places close to the border and also in the north of Kosovo. He said it appeared the UCK had reverted to a classic guerrilla war against the Serbs -- and remained a fighting force despite losing terrain in recent fighting. The spokesman also said aerial reconnaissance had shown three large groups of refugees moving south toward Albania and Macedonia. One group north of Pristina numbered about 200,000, another numbered about 150,000 and the other about 100,000. The spokesman said it appeared that Serb forces were mixing in with the refugees.

He said the Serbs had created a corridor in which refugees from the north of Kosovo were taken by bus and train toward Albania and Macedonia. But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reports today that no refugees were allowed to cross into either Albania or Macedonia today.

The NATO spokesman said that despite bad weather, NATO aircraft were able to hit important targets this morning and during the night. They included petroleum depots at Novi Sad and Smederovo, a radio transmission station at Subotica near the Hungarian border, a munitions depot at Boljevac, the airfield at Pristina and a transmitter at Mokra Gora near Pristina.

In Russia, meanwhile, president Boris Yeltsin said his country will not allow the NATO powers to seize Yugoslavia and bring it under their control.

Yeltsin was speaking at the Kremlin following a meeting on the Kosovo crisis with his special Yugoslav envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov and other top ministers.

Yeltsin said Yugoslavia is a strategic zone and cannot be allowed to become a Western "protectorate." He said that any NATO hopes that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosovic will withdraw his forces from Kosovo are "in vain." He was expected to deliver this message later in the day to U.S. President Bill Clinton when the two talk by phone.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that Milosovic will be made to withdraw from Kosovo and to give that province back to the "people to whom it belongs." Blair denounced the ethnic cleansing continuing in Kosovo. In separate remarks, British Defence Secretary George Robertson said NATO is not trying to remove Milosevic from power. He said that's up to the Serbians themselves.