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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Liberation Army Undertakes Demilitarization

  • Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 24 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Hours after the last Yugoslav soldiers, Serbian police and paramilitary troops withdrew from Kosovo, the NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping force (KFOR) finally secured a signed document early Monday from the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) to demilitarize over a 90-day period.

KFOR commander General Michael Jackson said at the signing ceremony that what is called the UCK's "undertaking" marks a turning point in KFOR's "mission to establish an enduring climate of peace and security for all the people of Kosovo."

Jackson subsequently noted that the accord he reached earlier this month with the Yugoslav and Serbian forces was "a clear document" with the Serbs on their 11-day withdrawal from Kosovo. As the Serbs withdrew and the ethnic Albanian insurgents materialized in their wake, the absence of any document from the UCK revealed a legal, as well as power, vacuum.

In response, Jackson says, he ordered his troops to handle whatever situation they were confronted with on what he called "a common sense, rough-and-ready basis" because, as he said, "there was nothing else."

The UCK's political head and prime minister of the self-proclaimed provisional government of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, signed the document for his group. He acknowledged afterward that, in his words, "it is no easy thing for those who demilitarize." But he termed the undertaking "a new epoch for the people of Kosovo."

U.S. President Bill Clinton -- in a lengthy telephone call -- thanked Thaci for signing the document. At a joint news conference with Thaci after the signing, State Department spokesman James Rubin said Clinton realized it was a "difficult act of political courage" for the UCK to give up its arms.

General Jackson countersigned the UCK undertaking, merely acknowledging receipt of the insurgents' pledges. Jackson has repeatedly emphasized the document is not an agreement between KFOR and the UCK, but rather a unilateral undertaking by the UCK.

"The UCK has specifically agreed to ceasefiring all weapons, to stop using all explosive devices, to place no mines, to set up no barriers or checkpoints and maintain no observation posts."

General Jackson has declined to offer any political interpretation of the document, saying it is not for him, as a soldier, to do so.

The document provides for an immediate ceasefire by the UCK, its disengagement from the zones of conflict, subsequent demilitarization and reintegration into civil society, in accordance with the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

The UCK also agrees to renounce the use of force, to comply with the directions of the KFOR commander and the head of the interim civil administration for Kosovo, and to resolve peacefully any questions relating to the implementation of the undertaking.

In addition to pledging a ceasefire of all weapons and a halt to the use of explosive devices, the UCK agreed not to place any mines or erect any barriers, checkpoints or observation posts. It pledges as well not to destroy any buildings or facilities or engage in any military, security or training-related activities in or over Kosovo without KFOR approval.

Similarly, the document bars the UCK from attacking, detaining or intimidating civilians in Kosovo; attacking, confiscating or violating the property of civilians in Kosovo; or conducting reprisals, counterattacks or any unilateral acts. The UCK also agrees not to interfere with Yugoslav personnel returning to Kosovo to conduct specific tasks authorized and directed by KFOR.

The undertaking prohibits the UCK the use of all weapons 12.7mm or larger, all anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, grenades, mines or explosives, as well as automatic and long-barreled weapons. It also prohibits all weapons within two kilometers of Kosovo's external borders and of Yugoslav military or Serbian police assembly areas. The document does not cover pistols or non-automatic, long-barreled weapons, such as shotguns or hunting rifles. General Jackson says KFOR will carry out weapons searches and check that the agreement is being upheld. The UCK's failure to comply with the undertaking or with directions of the KFOR commander will make the UCK liable to military action.

The undertaking sets a timetable, stipulating that within seven days the UCK shall establish secure weapons storage sites, which shall be registered with and verified by KFOR, and that the UCK will clear its minefields and booby traps, vacate its fighting positions and transfer to assembly areas. After 29 days, the retention of any automatic or long-barreled weapons shall be subject to authorization by KFOR. And the document also stipulates that within 30 days, all UCK personnel who are not of local origin, "including individual advisors, freedom fighters, trainers, volunteers, and personnel from neighboring and other states, shall be withdrawn from Kosovo."

Complete demilitarization will take 90 days, by which time all UCK forces will cease wearing military uniforms and UCK insignia. All automatic small-arms weapons will be stored in registered weapons storage sites under joint UCK/KFOR control, and after 90 days their possession by UCK personnel will be prohibited and KFOR will assume full control of the sites.

The undertaking notes that the international community "will give due consideration to recognizing the UCK's commitment to propose individual current members to participate in the administration and police forces of Kosovo," and -- in the document's phrase-- "enjoy special consideration." Finally, the undertaking says that the international community "will give due consideration to ... the formation of an army in Kosovo on the lines of the U.S. National Guard in due course as part of a political process designed to determine Kosovo's future status."

The document in no way sanctions the establishment of an army or national guard, but rather leaves the UCK's request to be decided sometime in the future by the international community.

A KFOR spokesman, Major Jan Joosten, told reporters in Pristina yesterday that since the undertaking was signed on Monday, KFOR has held further talks with the UCK's leadership on the establishment of UCK headquarters in Kosovo:

"The main issues under discussion related to the locations to be designated as assembly areas for UCK members, and as UCK storage sites. Operational talks will continue today between commanders at the brigade and zone level. Agreement was also reached on the location of a UCK headquarters. The UCK will open this office today to oversee their compliance with the understanding, and to coordinate with KFOR."

RFE/RL's analyst for Albanian affairs, Fabian Schmidt, says the UCK agreement paves the way for the international community to take over the entire administration of Kosovo, including police and security issues. Schmidt notes the UN Security Council resolution authorized UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to appoint a special representative.

"One of his (Annan's) deputies will be responsible for various areas of civil administration, including police. It will be at his discretion to decide whether he will hire people from the UCK for the new local police force. It is likely that he will do so, but he will also hire Serbs. UCK officials have already indicated that they agree to such a procedure. The question of a National Guard, however, is more complicated. The undertaking says that this National Guard may be created 'as part of a political process designed to determine Kosovo's future status, taking into account the Rambouillet accord.' That means the issue is completely open. The Rambouillet accord itself says that such a political process can start in international negotiations in the future. Whether such negotiations will ever take place or be successful nobody knows."

Schmidt says that -- even though the Yugoslav and Serbian governments have not actually signed the Rambouillet accord -- the UN resolution has given the green light for its implementation. Moreover, he says, there is no time limit for the interim administration, in contrast to what was envisaged at Rambouillet.