Serbs given extra time to hand in arms

NATO EXTENDED its deadline yesterday for Serbs handing in weapons in Kosovo, acceding to Serb requests for more time to meet K-For's demands.

The decision will postpone threatened house-to-house searches by peace- keepers and arrests of those found to be armed. Scores of Serbs with assault rifles and ammunition surrendered their weapons on Saturday to Dutch peace- keepers, who had issued an ultimatum in the central Kosovo town of Orahovac.

Ironically, K-For is being aided in its drive to disarm the local Serbs by lists compiled by Yugoslav police, who kept detailed records of the arms they distributed.

"We posted a notice advising the population that the MUP (Interior Ministry Police) had left behind detailed lists identifying Serbs in this area who were armed," said Lieutenant-Colonel Tony van Loon, Dutch commander in Orahovac.

The MUP lists have been posted in public places, so those Serbs in possession of weapons will find it difficult to conceal them. By Saturday evening, 600 weapons had been handed in by the Serbs.

Orahovac, 40 miles southwest of Pristina, was the scene of heavy fighting between Serb and Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) forces last year. It is in the German-patrolled sector of Kosovo. Dutch soldiers have been stationed there for weeks but are to hand the town over to Russian peace-keepers in the next few days. Local Serbs say they welcome the prospect of the Russians coming, as they believe their Slavic brothers will better protect them from Albanian reprisal attacks.

But while K-For troops made progress in disarming locals, long-term prospects for peace were set back when KLA leader Hashim Thaci failed to attend a meeting on Saturday of a joint Serb and Albanian council, formed to advise the UN mission on Kosovo.

The chief UN administrator, Bernard Kouchner, is due today to reply to a proposal from a Kosovo Serb community leader calling for the creation of all-Serb enclaves.

Meanwhile in Belgrade, in a further blow to the divided opposition, Vuk Draskovic, the mercurial head of the Serbian Renewal Movement, accused another opposition group, led by Zoran Djindjic, of pushing the country to civil war by refusing offers of early elections.