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NATO Links Weapons Cache to KLA

June 23, 2000

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ NATO said Friday that a huge cache of weapons including mortars, mines and machine guns found last week belonged to the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The weapons stash, the largest found since the end of Kosovo’s war, raised questions about the supposedly disbanded KLA’s compliance with an order to disarm. The weapons were found June 16 near Klecka, about 20 miles southwest of Pristina.

Maj. Scott Slaten, a NATO spokesman, said documents found at the site indicate the weapons belonged to the KLA, the ethnic Albanian guerrillas who fought the Serbs until NATO bombing led President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his forces.

Senior British peacekeepers said KLA leaders must have known about the weapons and the failure to turn them in, as called for by the Kosovo peace agreement.

On Friday, however, Slaten said there was no evidence that Agim Ceku, the former KLA commander who now heads the Kosovo Protection Corps, knew of the cache. The Kosovo Protection Corps is a disaster response unit made up of many former KLA members.

If NATO established a link between Ceku and the weapons, the Serbs, Russians and others could press to remove him as head of the protection corps.

Slaten suggested that lack of discipline within the KLA could mean that Ceku did not necessarily know about arms being hidden by others in his organization.

``To say that Ceku had overriding authority (in the KLA) is a misconception,″ he said.

Ceku himself denied knowledge of the arms cache last weekend. At the same time, he appeared to contradict NATO’s assertion that the weapons were owned by the KLA, saying his forces had turned in all their arms as called for by the Kosovo peace agreement.

The weapons, stashed in several concrete bunkers and near Ceku’s former headquarters, included large quantities of mortars, anti-tank rocket launchers and missiles, hundreds of mines, dozens of boxes of ammunition, four heavy machine-guns and other ordnance.

In September, peacekeepers declared that the KLA had complied with orders to turn over all its weapons. On Sept. 20, NATO agreed to reorganize the KLA into the protection force in a deal personally negotiated by the alliance’s supreme commander for Europe, Gen. Wesley Clark, who gave his personal assurances that the former rebels had turned in all their weapons.

NATO officials suggested some of the weapons could have been used in recent attacks against Serb civilians, which Serb community leaders say are part of an ethnic Albanian campaign to drive Serbs from the province.

Slaten said the documents, which contained names and other evidence as to ownership of the weapons, would be investigated by U.N. police. If found to have been used in recent attacks on Serbs or others, charges would likely be filed, he added.