Liberation of Kosovo: Peacekeeping - KLA agree to disarm and clear mines

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The Independent Online
THE KOSOVO Liberation Army signed an agreement with Nato yesterday on demilitarising the rebel Albanian fighting force. The Alliance declared the historic deal had solved what might have been a crucial obstacle to a peaceful transition to civil society in Kosovo.

James Rubin, the envoy of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, appeared on the same platform with the KLA leader Hashim Thaci and the KLA chief of staff, General Agim Thecu, to offer fulsome praise for the rebel group. The undertaking was signed by Mr Thaci for the KLA and General Sir Mike Jackson, the British commander of Nato's Kosovo Force. The details were hammered out between John Reith, the British commander of the Alliance's Albania force and KLA commanders. Diplomatic sources say US influence was "pervasive".

The KLA will phase demilitarisation of its weapons over 90 days, clear their minefields and booby-traps, cease to be an uniformed paramilitary force and support the new civil authorities in Kosovo.

Mr Thaci cited the "killings, kidnappings and rapes " by Slobodan Milosevic's forces but said Serb civilians have nothing to fear and should remain in Kosovo. Of his political rival, Ibrahim Rugova, he said: "There is room enough in Kosovo for him too, he can help in the peace process here. We are willing to work with him."

Mr Thaci said KLA members would join the new civilian police force, and "enjoy special consideration for the expertise they have developed". He said they could also be part of a new army.

The agreement allows for the "formation of an army in Kosovo on the lines of the US National Guard in due course as part of a political process designed to determine Kosovo's future status". It would have a core of 4,000 professionals, plus reservists. The reaction of individual KLA units to the deal was mixed. As the agreement was announced, KLA units were patrolling at the northern Kosovo town of Podujevo. One fighter, Bajram Shariqi, 29, said: "We have fought to win this war and we now have to defend Kosovo. If we give up all our arms, what happens when Nato goes off and the Chetniks (Serbs) decide to come back?"

But KLA soldiers in Kosovo's Drenica region, cradle of the Albanian uprising Against Serbian rule, seemed content. "I'm very happy," said Besjana Luka, a 15-year-old girl wearing the black uniform of the KLA military police. The war "was hard for me but it was worth it since we now have freedom". She hoped to become a policewoman but will have to go back to school.

"We agreed to this deal because the enemy has left the country," said Abedin Kiqina, a soldier at KLA headquarters in the town of Glogovac. "My wish is to stay a soldier of the KLA", but since that is impossible, "I would like now to be part of the police or the national guard". Shaban Shala, another senior officer, said he might now return to his former occupation as a human rights activist.

"It will not be national rights, collective rights, individual rights, and I hope that there will not be any human rights violations," he said.