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KLA wrangle over deal to surrender its arms

THE CEREMONY to mark the official end of the Kosovo Liberation Army and its transformation into a civilian force was delayed yesterday amid apparent splits within the rebel organisation and wrangling over the handover of weapons.

While suggesting that only minor details were responsible for the delay, K-For officials nevertheless failed to conceal the increasingly obvious difference in hopes held by the KLA and K-For over the future role of the Kosovo rebel army.

"There was no last minute glitch," insisted a K-For spokesman, Lt-Col Robin Clifford, at a press conference yesterday, where the signing ceremony was due to take place. He was referring to a question about whether the number of weapons to be handed over to K-For by the KLA was causing the delay.

Two stumbling blocks - the name of a new civilian national guard force to be created, and the number of weapons some KLA commanders wanted to remain in possession of - were reported by sources close to the KLA to be the sticking points that prevented the signing ceremony going ahead.

But these details mask the more fundamental disagreement between K-For and the KLA over the future of the force: while the KLA wants to be transformed into a new defence force for Kosovo that will eventually serve as the nucleus for an independent army, K-For insists that the KLA should cease to exist, and its former members be directed to civilian organisations, including the police and a new national guard with solely civilian duties.

Divisions within the top ranks of the KLA also appear to be unraveling the demilitarisation process. The top KLA commander, General Agim Ceku, cancelled an appearance with a K-For commander, Lt-Gen Sir Mike Jackson, yesterday morning to meet instead Ramush Harudinaj, a KLA zone commander in south-western Kosovo. Mr Harudinaj is one of two KLA regional commanders who was yesterday reported to be refusing to comply with giving up weapons to K-For. According to the demilitarisation agreement offered by the KLA and accepted on 19 June by Lt-Gen Jackson, the KLA was to turn over all weapons by yesterday. The KLA had handed in more than 10,000 weapons by the weekend, according to K-For.

Since it was deployed three months ago, however, K-For commanders have shown sensitivity to the KLA leaders' desire to play a role in post- war Kosovo. Despite the agreement also banning KLA soldiers from wearing their uniforms, K-For allowed them to appear in uniform and lightly armed for the last time on Saturday, as the force held a parade in Pristina.