Helsinki, 16 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - Russia today demanded that the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) immediately disarm, while NATO offered assurances that its peacekeeping force in Kosovo will soon seek a formal agreement on the handover of UCK weapons. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called for disarmament of the UCK, and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said the continued activity of the UCK in Kosovo threatens to wreck the peace settlement with
Yugloslavia. In London, British Defense Secretary George Robertson said the head of NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo, British General Sir Michael Jackson, will seek a formal agreement with the UCK, specifying exactly when the rebel ethnic Albanians should lay down their weapons.
Some UCK commanders have said they plan to disarm only when the last Serbian troops leave Kosovo, and Robertson reminded them that will be next Monday night. However, Pleurat Sejdiu, a UCK spokesman in London, said the UCK will not disarm in northern Kosovo until Russia agrees to place its troops there under a unified command with NATO forces.
Russia and NATO are at a standoff over the presence of several hundred Russian troops at Pristina airport. Russia does not want to put them under NATO command, and NATO refuses to give Russia its own sector in Kosovo to patrol.
Ivanov said today that Russia is ready for compromise but could not be assigned a secondary role in Kosovo. He is in Helsinki ahead of talks tomorrow with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen is meeting his Russian counterpart, Sergeyev, today on the same issue.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea says the deployment of alliance troops in Kosovo is proceeding well, with peacekeepers about to move into the central region of the province.
Shea said all units have deployed to their alloted zones in southern Kosovo and are poised to move forward.
He also said Serbian forces had basically completed their withdrawal from southern Kosovo, although there had been delays due to traffic congestion and a shortage of heavy armor transport. Earlier, NATO extended a deadline for Serbian forces to quit the south by 24 hours, saying it's confident they were making genuine efforts.
Shea again urged ethnic Albanian refugees to remain in their camps and not to begin a risky journey home. He said there had been deaths and injuries among refugees because of exploding mines. In Paris, the French Defense Ministry said French troops had discovered human remains in the ruins of a house in the village of Vlastion. The French are now guarding the site. Reuter reports the presence of other bodies thrown into wells in an unnamed village in the Drenica region.
Meanwhile, a nine-vehicle Russian military supply convoy has arrived at Pristina airport, where 200 Russian soldiers have been in control in a standoff with NATO troops for the past several days. The convoy crossed into Serbia from Bosnia, and included a large fuel truck and a medical vehicle.