Accessibility links

Breaking News

Yugoslavia: UCK Nears Disarming Deadline As New Corps Forms

The Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) is due to complete its disarming and demobilization by Sunday (Sept. 19). But many members may become part of a new, unarmed civilian corps. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports.

Prague, 17 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Disarming the Kosovo Liberation Army was part of the agreement that brought the NATO peacekeeping force KFOR into the province. In a pact signed two weeks after NATO's arrival in June, the UCK pledged to demilitarize and disarm within 90 days. With the deadline of September 19 just two days away, NATO officials are gauging how far the UCK still has to go in giving up its arms.

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Henry Shelton, is in Prague for talks with Czech President Vaclav Havel and Czech military commanders on the situation in the Balkans. He says the Kosovo Liberation Army's demilitarization and demobilization have been uneven. But he says the UCK commanders seem to have good intentions.

"The UCK -- the KLA -- have in fact committed themselves to complying. They have not complied as readily as any of us would have liked to have, in terms of at the local level. But again, at the leadership level, they have remained committed. They have continued to press for compliance down at the local level, and it remains to be seen whether they will meet the milestones that have been laid out. And we are concerned that they meet them. But as of right now they are moving very steadily toward that, and we have no reason to believe that they don't intend to comply."

Shelton's comments are a response to suspicions that many former insurgents have hidden their weapons rather than handing them in to KFOR. But most top KFOR officials say they think the UCK will comply with the demobilization deadline.

UCK commander General Agim Ceku, in an interview last weekend with Reuters TV, predicted his group would be demobilized by Thursday, three days before Sunday's deadline. In his words, "Up until September 19, there are 10,000 mobilized UCK. After that date, there are none... including me." Ceku insisted UCK commanders firmly support the demobilization.

In a bid to employ some of the demobilized UCK servicemen, KFOR, the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the UCK are cooperating to form a civilian emergency and humanitarian force, to be known as the "Kosovo Corps." The corps will be mobilized throughout Kosovo to assist ongoing reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. It will also be trained to react rapidly to natural disasters and other emergencies.

Russia has expressed strong reservations, saying having a Kosovo Corps would effectively mean maintaining the UCK, rather than transforming it. The UN's Kosovo administration head, Bernard Kouchner, is in Moscow today trying to persuade Russian leaders not to oppose the corps.

An UNMIK spokeswoman in Pristina says the International Organization for Migration is to begin processing applications for jobs in the Kosovo Corps on Monday. Daniela Rozgonova (a Slovak) says the Kosovo Corps will number 5,000 persons, of whom 3,000 will serve full-time. She says that many of the members of the Kosovo Corps will be former UCK soldiers. The corps will be open to civilians in Kosovo of all nationalities.

KFOR spokesman Major Ole Irgens says the creation of the Kosovo Corps is in line with the UN Security Council resolution that set up KFOR as the sole legal security presence in Kosovo. He says the corps will be a civilian, unarmed and non-military organization. It will deal mainly with disaster responsibilities, search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, demining and rebuilding tasks.

Irgens says the UN mission will have authority over the corps, while day-to-day supervision will be KFOR's responsibility. As he puts it, "This will not be a defense force, or an army, nor will it play any role in law enforcement. Any attempts by the UCK to form military or paramilitary groups will be seen as non-compliance."

The UCK may have other ideas. UCK commander Ceku is quoted in yesterday's Washington Post as saying he views the Kosovo Corps as a civilian protection force, as a way to help the people and the peacekeepers. In his words, "we could help in everything from directing traffic to riot control."

In any case, an unarmed Kosovo Corps does not appear to be what Ceku and interim Prime Minister Hashim Thaci had in mind when they signed their undertaking with General Jackson three months ago. One clause in the UCK's undertaking called on KFOR "to give due consideration to the formation of an army in Kosovo on the lines of the U.S. National Guard."