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Friday, February 26, 1999 Published at 07:19 GMT

World: Europe

Serb tanks spark Kosovo fears

Serbs deny they are planning a new offensive in Kosovo

The Yugoslav army has moved 4,500 troops, more than 60 tanks and other military equipment to the Kosovo border amid stern warnings from Nato and the US.

Kosovo Section
The deployment, backing up forces already inside the province, comes as fighting between the Serbs and ethnic Albanians escalates.

The United States has warned the Yugoslav authorities against any new offensive before a peace accord is finalised, saying such a move would prompt strong Nato military action.

Paul Royall: "Putting peace into practice in Kosovo is still a long way off"
A Nato spokesman said the situation was ''more than tense - almost a powder keg''.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said Nato and the US had made clear they would protect Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority from "humanitarian disasters".

"We don't know why they have moved these troops or exactly what they plan to do with them," he added.

Peter Biles reports from Kosovo
The Serbian authorities have denied suggestions that they are planning a new offensive.

But Albanian Premier Pandeli Majko reiterated his call for Nato to intervene on the ground.

"Belgrade is sending troops massively into the region [of Kosovo] in what I see as a preparation for a general offensive against Kosovo," he said in a letter to Nato Secretary-General Javier Solana.

He added that Nato was the only institution capable of forcing Belgrade to stop the violence.

Splits within KLA

The latest concern coincides with the return of the ethnic Albanian delegation from France following marathon peace talks.

The negotiations broke up on Tuesday with no clear result apart from a commitment to meet again on 15 March to finalise an internationally brokered settlement.

Nato had threatened air strikes if the Serbs blocked the autonomy deal for Kosovo, but in the end both delegations refused to sign.

The ethnic Albanians had to postpone their return home until Thursday after Serbian authorities initially refused to guarantee safe passage through Pristina airport for delegation members who belonged to the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army.

The delegation, which included KLA representative Hashim Thaci, has announced plans to form a transitional ethnic-Albanian government, as required by the peace plan.

But the KLA's political chief Adem Demaci - who boycotted the peace talks - warned such a government would have no legitimacy.

Mr Demaci called it a ploy to dupe Kosovo's ethnic Albanians into accepting less than full independence for the province where they form 90% of the population.


Fighting has meanwhile continued in Kosovo. The latest clashes were in Bukos, about 30 kilometres northwest of Pristina, where Serb tanks and mortars appeared to be targeting KLA positions.

Fighting in the same area earlier this week left one Serb civilian dead and five Serb policemen wounded.

International monitors reported at least 15 Yugoslav tanks and other heavy hardware amassed in the region.

There has also been a tense stand-off between the Serbian security forces and KLA units near the southern town of Suva Reka.

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