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Tuesday, September 29, 1998 Published at 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK

World: Europe

Diplomats test Serb claims on Kosovo

Fighting continues to keep thousands of refugees on the move

Diplomats in Belgrade have gone to the troubled province of Kosovo to see for themselves whether Serbia has stopped its offensive against remaining bases of the ethnic-Albanian separatist guerrillas.

Fifteen Kosovo villages shelled or burning - Ed Campbell reports
On Monday the Serbian Prime Minister, Mirko Marjanovic, said the campaign was over. However, Western reporters in the province say they witnessed continuing attacks by Serbian special police.

At a meeting in Belgrade, the envoys of the United States, Russia and leading west European powers, told the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, that he must comply fully with a United Nations demand for a ceasefire.

The ambassadors from the so-called Contact Group want urgent action to ease the refugee crisis in Kosovo, where tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians have fled attacks by Serbian troops.

Humanitarian dimension

[ image: Nato Secretary General Javier Solana - Milosevic faces airstrikes]
Nato Secretary General Javier Solana - Milosevic faces airstrikes
"The Contact Group attaches the utmost importance to the humanitarian dimension of the situation in Kosovo and expects the parties concerned to urgently take the necessary measures in this respect," a statement issued by the French Embassy in Belgrade said.

American and European diplomats have been demanding that Serbian forces withdraw or face Nato airstrikes.

The latest UN resolution, voted on last Thursday, calls for a ceasefire in Kosovo.

The resolution warns the Yugoslav Government of "additional measures" against it if it fails to comply.

Belgrade dismissed the resolution as having "no juridical or political basis," but on Monday the Serbian Prime Minister, Mirko Marjanovic, announced that government forces were returning to barracks.

Official assurances

"The KLA has not been defeated" - David Loyn reports from Kosovo
"As of today all anti-terrorist activities have ended. They will be renewed only if any new bandit and terrorist activity reappears," he told parliament in Belgrade.

But despite the official assurances, the Serbian authorities in Kosovo have reported heavy fighting in the province.

[ image:  ]
The information centre in the capital, Pristina, said security forces had killed a large number of guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army and arrested hundreds of ethnic Albanian men in the Mount Jezero region, south of Pristina.

The announcement by the Serbian prime minister was greeted with scepticism by Nato, and the United States said it had seen no signs of a "strategic" withdrawal of Serbian forces, despite Mr Marjanovic's announcement.

US Defence Secretary, William Cohen, told a news conference in Morocco that the Serbians had to carry out the withdrawal if they wanted Nato to think about calling off its plans to attack Serbian forces in Kosovo.

Meanwhile aid agencies in Kosovo say around a quarter of a million ethnic Albanians are living out in the open, and as the bitter Balkan winter approaches they say the region faces a humanitarian catastrophe.

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