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U.S. offers reward on Milosevic

WASHINGTON -- The United States Thursday offered a reward of up to $5 million to encourage the arrest of alleged Yugoslav war criminals, including President Slobodan Milosevic.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said the money would go to "those who provide information that leads to the transfer of indicted war criminals" to the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague.Washington has provided evidence and support for the Hague court to pursue cases against those responsible for atrocities in Kosovo in recent months, when Serb forces forced hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians to flee the country.

President Clinton has made clear he wants Milosevic out of power and transferred with top aides to the Hague to face charges of murder and crimes against humanity that were announced bythe tribunal on May 27.

"The United States is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction in any country of persons indicted for serious violations of international humanitarian law," Rubin told a State Department briefing.

He specifically said the United States was not looking for "bounty hunters" and said the reward would stand until those indicted were brought before the tribunal.

Senior commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army carried out assassinations, arrests and purges within their ranks to thwart potential rivals, current and former commanders in the rebel army and some Western diplomats told the New York Times.

The campaign, in which as many as half a dozen top rebel commanders were shot dead, was directed by Hashim Thaci and two of his lieutenants, Azem Syla and Xhavit Haliti, the officials said. Thaci denied through a spokesman that he had been responsible for any killings.

Although the United States has long been wary of the KLA, the rebel group has become the main ethnic Albanian power in Kosovo and the United States and other NATO powers have effectively made Thaci and the KLA partners in rebuilding Kosovo.

While none of the KLA officials interviewed by the Times saw Thaci or his aides execute anyone, they recounted, and in some cases said they had witnessed, incidents in which Thaci's rivals had been killed shortly after he or one of his aides had threatened them with death.

"For the leadership, this was never just a war against Serbs -- it was also a struggle for power," said Rifat Haxhijaj, 30, a former lieutenant in the Yugoslav army who left the rebel movement last September.

The State Department on Thursday challenged some aspects of the accounts. "We simply don't have information to substantiate allegations that there was a KLA-leadership-directed program of assassinations or executions," spokesman James Rubin said.

NATO struggled Friday to curb revenge attacks against Kosovo's Serbs as ethnic Albanians surged back into the province.

About 48,000 ethnic Albanians returned on Thursday alone, said Paula Ghedini, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. That brought to more than 300,000 the number who have flooded back into the southern Serb province from Albania and Macedonia in the past 10 days.

"This is one of the largest spontaneous returns that we have ever seen in the last 25 years of any operation," she said from Pristina, Kosovo's capital.

There were signs that Friday's wave of arrivals could be even larger, she said.

U.N. officials have tried in vain to persuade refugees to delay their returns until mines can be cleared and better arrangements for food and shelter organized. Many are coming home to little more than burned-out shells of houses.

The flood also is likely to complicate NATO's struggle to cope with outbreaks of lawlessness, especially where returning refugees come into contact with Serbs.