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Serbs flee as peacekeepers work to restore basic services

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- With terrified Serb civilians fleeing Kosovo and ethnic Albanian refugees returning to mined villages without water, power or food, NATO peacekeepers Friday disarmed rebels and Serbs alike and started restoring basic services.

The allies, meanwhile, said three-quarters of the Serb forces in Kosovo have now left to comply with a peace deal that ended the 78-day NATO air campaign and mandates all 40,000 troops leave the province by Sunday night.NATO forces called in more military police to try to restore order and to persuade Serbs that they will protect them from revenge attacks by Kosovo Liberation Army rebels.

British Maj. Gen Richard Dannatt said the officers would fill a "vacuum" left by the departure of the only police Kosovo had.

"One thing you notice going around Pristina is the complete lack of policemen. It's a large, bustling city that's coming back to life, but there are no policemen on the street corners," Dannatt said.

A Royal Irish regiment took 50 weapons from a group of Kosovo rebels Thursday south of Pristina, he said. "We are not going to tolerate the waving around, brandishing of weapons, by any faction here at all."

Tens of thousands of refugees have streamed home from Albania and Macedonia following the peace deal, finding not only their houses destroyed but water and power cut off as well. Those services were heavily damaged by NATO's bombs and by a frenzy of Serb violence and destruction.

NATO's humanitarian effort "is currently focused on providing security for the repair of essential facilties in Pristina. Over the next few days priorities will include water, power supplies and other key elements for the infrastructure," he said.

Peacekeepers also were trying to prevent thousands of Serb civilians from fleeing out of fear of ethnic Albanian revenge attacks. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said today in Brussels that 33,000 Serb civilians, of a population of roughly 150,000, had fled.

The leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church traveled to Kosovo to join the peacekeepers in persuading his flock to stand their ground in what they consider the cradle of their culture.

But the German forces responsible for southwestern Kosovo said that in Orahovac, 30 miles southwest of Pristina, a delegation led by Lt. Col. Gen. Obrad Stevanovic of the Serbian special police was urging the last 3,000 Serbs in town to leave.

Another 17,000 Kosovo Albanian refugees have left Albania and 3,000 left Montenegro, taking the total of refugees flooding home to almost 50,000, the UNHCR agency said on Friday.

A spokesman for the agency said a team had made a 90-minute aerial survey of western Kosovo by helicopter.

"They noted that the area between Djakovica and Pec appeared devastated and deserted. The damage was extremely heavy in the region between the two towns and the team was quite shocked because many of the buildings were reduced to rubble," a spokesman told reporters.