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Monday, 12 February, 2001, 14:02 GMT
Albanian rebels training for Serbian war
Ethinc Albanian rebels in Presevo valley
UCPMB rebels are willing to fight to make the Presevo valley part of Kosovo
Ethnic Albanian rebels are training for armed conflict with Serbia.

Volunteers are taught weapons use and tactics in a camp in the demilitarised zone between Kosovo and Serbia.

The rebels, known as the UCPMB - the Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac liberation army - want to link the demilitarised Presevo valley to Kosovo.

Yugoslav soldier in the Presevo valley area
Yugoslav forces keep a close eye on the exclusion zone
Efforts are being put into talks with local Albanian leaders for a political solution to the crisis. The Serbian Government is expected to make an announcement in the next few days.

But all the signs from the rebels so far is that they are not yet ready to give up their guns.

'Safe' inside demilitarised zone

After the war in Kosovo, Nato and the Yugoslav army agreed to create a five-kilometre wide buffer zone on the border between Kosovo and Serbia to avoid clashes between ethnic Albanians and Serb troops.

But the UCPMB has seized a 40-kilometre stretch of land inside the zone, hoping to gain even more pending negotiations with the Serbian Government.

The will of the people in this area will be realised through diplomacy or arms

Ethnic Albanian UCPMB commander

Rebels have threatened a full-scale conflict if their demands are not met.

A commander with the UCPMB, speaking from the rebel training camp in the Presevo valley, told the BBC: "The will of the people in this area will be realised through diplomacy or arms. We will prepare for war, and will continue until these three municipalities are free."

Hard to stop rebel supplies

The rebels' presence has become an embarrassment to the Western alliance. K-For, Nato's peace implementation force for Kosovo, has stepped up patrols to stop the flow of men and weapons to the training camp.

UCPMB rebel behind sand bags
Ethnic Albanain UCPMB rebels train and patrol inside thev demilitarised zone
K-For hopes to convince rebel commanders that peace talks are the only option, but supplies are still getting through, much of them by mule from Serbia.

The BBC correspondent in Kosovo Nick Wood says there is no shortage of new recruits wanting to join the rebels, with new volunteers arriving at the training camp every week.

But he adds that both Nato and the Serb government hope to reach an agreement with the UCPMB before spring.

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See also:

07 Feb 01 | Europe
Kosovo rebels accept peace talks
02 Feb 01 | Europe
Guerrillas threaten fragile peace
29 Jan 01 | Europe
Kostunica warns of fresh fighting
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