Accessibility links

Yugoslavia: Disagreements Persist On UCK Role In Kosovo

  • Joe Lauria

United Nations, 20 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Disagreements persisted late Sunday between NATO-led peackeeping forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) on the formation of a civilian emergency force called the "Kosovo Corps."

The UCK has said it intends to sign an accord on the civilian force, but the two sides reportedly still disagree on the leadership of the force, the size of its arsenal and insignia. A signing ceremony was called off earlier Sunday.

Midnight Sunday was also the deadline for the UCK to complete disarmament and demilitarization. But as the deadline approached, it appeared unlikely that the UCK would turn in all their uniforms and return to civilian life.

The UCK fought a 14-month guerrilla war of independence against Serb-dominated Yugoslavia that ended when NATO bombing of Yugoslavia earlier this year forced the Serb army to withdraw from the province.

Under the terms of an agreement worked out between the NATO peacekeepers, known as KFOR, and the UCK, the guerrilla army was to turn in most of it weapons and be reduced to a civil defense corps by Sunday night.

But after lengthy talks this weekend, the two sides failed to agree on the structure and the precise role the Kosovo Corps would play.

NATO says the Corps should be lightly armed and be restricted to humanitarian duties and disaster relief. The UCK commander, Agim Ceku, sees the corps as a future army of an independent Kosovo.

The UCK wants to keep 7,000 men in arms while NATO says the corps should be restricted to 3,000 with 2,000 more in reserve.

KFOR Commander Michael Jackson of Britain said Sunday that it appeared the KLA would meet its deadline for turning most of its heavy weapons -- about 10,000 -- over to NATO. And U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told CNN he still had hope that the remaining issues would be solved in negotiations.

But the last-minute dispute over the significant issue of the civil corps underscores the essential political differences between the UCK on the one hand and NATO and the UN -- which is running Kosovo's civil administration -- on the other.

These differences were laid out clearly at UN headquarters on Friday by Hacim Thaci, who refers to himself as the prime minister of the provisional government of Kosovo and the commander-in-chief of its army, the UCK. Thaci denounced the UN chief of the civil administration, Bernard Kouchner, whom he accused of acting like "a king." Thaci was snubbed by Annan, who had originally intended to meet him. Instead Thaci met one of Annan's deputies. Annan told CNN he was too busy meeting foreign ministers as the General Assembly began its 54th session last week.

But UN officials said that Annan was clearly not pleased by Thaci's remarks. They said the UN would resist Thaci's attempts to wrest civilian control from it.

The UN administration in Kosovo was established with a Security Council resolution last May that clearly states that Kosovo is to remain a sovereign part of Yugoslavia, if not run any longer by Belgrade.

But Thaci made it clear that Kosovo will one day be independent and that he would run it. In fact, Thaci called for a Kosovo seat in the UN General Assembly, something which Annan said Sunday was not likely to happen.

"There can be no democracy if Kosovo is left under Serbia," Thaci said at a news conference.

Instead, Kouchner was not doing enough to stop the de facto partition of Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians, Thaci charged.

"Kouchner and the United Nations mission behave as if the people of Kosovo were at their service and not the United Nations and Kouchner trying to help the people of Kosovo," added Thaci's self-proclaimed minister of information, Bajram Kosumi.

Kosumi said Kouchner had allowed too many Albanian collaborators with the Serbs to get key jobs in the new administration and that he had allowed too many Serbian laws to remain in effect.

He was also angry that Kosovars with doctorates were earning $200 a month while a "concierge for the UN is taking 2,000 bucks."

Thaci dismissed a question about whether he had personally taken part in summary executions of dissidents in his own ranks, as reported by The New York Times during NATO's bombing campaign. Thaci laughed and said the "New York Times can write whatever they want but they do not have any evidence."

Challenged on the point of independence, which he favors and the UN does not, Thaci said: "The Yugoslavs should finally come to the realization that the future of Kosovo will be decided in Kosovo proper."