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Friday, June 18, 1999 Published at 16:48 GMT 17:48 UK

World: Europe

UK troops complete move into Kosovo

Ethnic Albanians cheered British troops into Podujevo

British troops have taken full control of their sector of Kosovo, as Serb refugees continue to flee the area.

Kosovo: Special Report
Under the K-For deployment, the British contingent is responsible for an area from the capital Pristina to the Serbian border.

They have pushed northwards ahead of Nato's Sunday night deadline for the Serb forces to leave the province.

It is thought the rapid move was to prevent further destruction by the Serb forces.

British Challenger tanks and Warrior armoured personnel carriers moved into final positions in the northern town of Podujevo around dawn on Friday.

Dawn skirmish

Two shots were fired as the tanks moved into the town about 0600 local time, as KLA forces skirmished with remnants of the Yugoslav army.

Lt Col Nick Clissitt: "We are offering protection to everyone who wants it"
Lieutenant Colonel Nick Clissitt, the K-For spokesman in Kosovo, said: "There is a degree of burning going on but some of those are Serb homes which have been set on fire as they left."

He said British armoured vehicles had been deployed in several Serb villages north and west of Pristina and said K-For would be offering protection to "everyone who wanted it".

Lt Col Clissitt said: "The ordinary, decent Serbs who live here and wish to remain here - it is just as much our job to protect them as the Albanian community".

He said they were moving from the "force on force" phase of the deployment to a "mind on mind" period when they had to convince people on both sides of their impartiality and ability to provide security.

[ image: Serb fighters prepare to leave Podujevo as the British arrive]
Serb fighters prepare to leave Podujevo as the British arrive
The British forces were greeted on the streets by hundreds of ethnic Albanians, who streamed out of shattered buildings. They chanted and cheered and threw flowers at their "liberators".

'The happiest day'

Vjola Coti, 21, said: "This is the happiest day. We have waited and waited for you. Many people died but we are happy now."

Mark Laity reports: "To ecstatic cheers the British army heads north"
Sadie Rudari-Mehmet, 40, said: "It may be raining here today but we do not feel it. This is a great day for us, a great day to be free."

She said: "On the day after the air strikes, they (the Serbs) started killing many people here. They broke into houses and shot people and some were just driving around and killing."

Mrs Rudari-Mehmet said she fled to the hills with her for children for nearly a month but returned when they ran out of food.

"When we came back, there were Serbs everywhere stopping people. If you had 100 Deutschmarks they would let you through. If you did not they shot you.

"We thought every minute we were going to die. We thought every day they would come in and kill us. They were looting, taking jewellery and everything they could get.

'The hope of Nato kept us alive'

"The only thing that kept us alive was the thought of this day, the hope of Nato kept us alive," she said.

[ image: Corporal Ian Johnston of the Royal Irish Rangers carries surrendered KLA weapons]
Corporal Ian Johnston of the Royal Irish Rangers carries surrendered KLA weapons
Isuf Cakiqi, 19, said: "The Serbs are running now. They hated and killed us. Now we thank Nato for being here."

Captain Tom Holloway, of the 4th Armoured Brigade, said: "We are now in the end state of this operation.

"We have been told the VJ (Yugoslav Army), the Albanians and the special police want us here but this area is still being fought over and it could go wrong."

VJ troops have until midnight on Sunday to complete their withdrawal from Kosovo.

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