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Thursday, June 17, 1999 Published at 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK

World: Europe

KLA move in despite K-For

US Marines under K-For command search KLA fighters

Fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) are moving into town after town across Kosovo, setting themselves up as the new authorities in areas vacated by the Serb security forces - despite K-For attempts to demilitarise the guerrillas.

Kosovo: Special Report
In many cases, KLA troops have set up check-points and are conducting house-by-house searches - acting, in effect, like a new paramilitary police force.

At KLA headquarters in Pristina, the guerrillas are still openly carrying automatic weapons and other firearms.

Jeremy Cooke: "Huge number of KLA weapons discovered"
K-For peace-keepers, determined to impose impartial international authority on the province, have been forced on several occasions to disarm KLA fighters at gun-point.

There has as yet been no agreement between the KLA leadership and K-For on the demilitarisation of the guerrillas.

"Clear timetable for demilitarisation"

The Nato spokesman, Jamie Shea, said on Thursday it was "extremely important" that local KLA commanders complied with any agreement reached by their political leadership.

"We have put to the KLA's political leaders a clear timetable running out to 30 days for their initial demilitarisation," Dr Shea said.

[ image: KLA: Still openly carrying their guns]
KLA: Still openly carrying their guns
Descending from their positions in Kosovo's mountains and forests, the KLA, in their black uniforms and camouflaged army fatigues, have been welcomed as heroes.

Kosovo Albanian villagers have greeted them with flowers and kisses.

The Kosovo Serbs, however, have not stayed around to witness this home-coming. Their exodus in recent days has largely been prompted by fear of KLA reprisals.

K-For forcibly disarming KLA

K-For itself is trying to stamp out any rival claims to authority in the province.

[ image:  ]
Near Zegra, in southern Kosovo, US marines of K Company forcibly disarmed around 200 KLA men, following a stand-off in which the guerrillas' commander refused to surrender his men's weapons.

Heavily outnumbered by the Americans, who were backed by Cobra helicopter gunships and light armoured vehicles, the KLA surrendered. The officers were detained and handcuffed.

The senior US officer, Captain David Eiland, said a fire-fight with the KLA would have been "catastrophic".

"It isn't conducive to a stable and secure environment," he said, "so we had to take them."

Similar incidents have been repeated across the province.

[ image: K-For has confiscated large numbers of KLA weapons]
K-For has confiscated large numbers of KLA weapons
The British Parachute Regiment is guarding a cache of weapons seized from KLA men and civilians.

"We've got more than 30 hand-guns, grenades and anti-tank rockets," said Captain Cameron Jack for the 1st Paras.

There was hope on Wednesday that agreement had been reached in principle on a step-by-step programme for demilitarising the KLA.

The steps include a ban on the carrying and possession of automatic weapons, the storage of heavy weapons at sites checked and eventually controlled by K-For; the closing of military positions, including check-points; and an end to the wearing of uniforms and military insignia.

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