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Yugoslavia: Troops Shoot Dead Albanian Rebel Leader

Bujanovac, 25 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslav troops deploying in a buffer zone abutting Kosovo have killed an ethnic Albanian rebel commander. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said today that rebel leader Ridvan Qazimi -- known as Commander Lleshi -- died yesterday during a three-hour firefight with Yugoslav army units.

Covic emphasized that Lleshi's death "was not an assassination. He was killed in an exchange of fire with the Yugoslav army." Covic said that there are hard-liners among the rebels who "are doing all they can to provoke clashes." Most of them, he said, are in the village of Dobrosin. Ethnic Albanian sources said that several dozens of armed men gathered in the village of Trnovac upon hearing of Lleshi's death. The rebels plan a funeral for later today.

Many of the rebels, Lleshi included, agreed this week to disarm and not to oppose the NATO-approved deployment of Yugoslav forces to the buffer zone, from which they were banned after the end of NATO's 1999 campaign against Yugoslavia.