NATO, KLA Agree on Demilitarization
Jun. 21, 1999
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Kosovo Albanian rebels signed a wide-ranging demilitarization pact with NATO today, allowing the peacekeeping force to impose its control on the province and try to prevent a backlash of ethnic violence.
The pact, which aims to neutralize the Kosovo Liberation Army as a military force, was signed just after midnight, only hours after the last of the Serb-led Yugoslav forces left the province.
``There is a new epoch beginning for the people of Kosovo,'' said the KLA's political head, Hashim Thaci, who signed the agreement with British Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson, the head of alliance forces in Kosovo, in a tent at Jackson's field headquarters.
The role of the KLA has been a critical issue for post-war Kosovo. Around 50,000 Serbs have fled the province over the past week, fearing the guerrillas would exact bloody revenge for Serb forces' campaign of killings and expulsions against Albanians over the past 2 1/2 months.
The agreement, effective immediately, calls for the KLA to leave its checkpoints and observation points around the territory and cease any military or security activity unless approved by Jackson. It must cease firing all weapons, stop using explosives, establish secure NATO-verified weapons storage sites, and clear minefields and boobytraps within seven days.
The NATO-led force ``is here to keep the peace and we will not tolerate its violation,'' said Jackson, seated in a canvas field chair at a table with Thaci, against a backdrop of large maps on the walls of the tent.
Only a few hours earlier, Jackson received written confirmation that all Yugoslav forces had withdrawn from Kosovo. That allowed NATO to officially end its air campaign against Yugoslavia, which began March 24 and was suspended June 10 when the Kosovo peace deal was signed.
As Yugoslav troops were withdrawing, the KLA became increasingly bold, setting up a headquarters in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, establishing a self-appointed police force in Prizren, Kosovo's second-largest city, and making its armed members visible throughout the province.
The ensuing flight of Serbs has been a visible sign of defeat for President Slobodan Milosevic, and his government has pressured them to return to Kosovo.
On Sunday, the government organized convoys that the official Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said brought 2,000 Serbs back to Kosovo.
State-run RTS television repeatedly broadcast statements from Yugoslav ministers on Sunday insisting it was safe for Serbs to return and that the international forces would protect them.
However, the private news agency Beta reported that 800 Serb refugees in the city of Mladenovac near Belgrade refused Sunday to go back to Kosovo, and were ordered to assemble today to be returned.
Some 200 Serbs who had just arrived in Belgrade from Kosovo staged a brief demonstration Sunday. They were jeered by onlookers. ``Why did you have to flee? Slobo said you can stay,'' an elderly woman shouted at the demonstrators, using Milosevic's nickname.
Pristina was tense Sunday. One person was killed in a 10-minute gunbattle in a suburb, according to Beta, and the city center was rocked in mid-afternoon when an explosive device detonated in a Pristina University courtyard.
The ethnic animosities in Kosovo were clear even in the final hours of the Yugoslav army's presence. In the northern city of Mitrovica, French paratroopers held back an angry crowd of ethnic Albanians trying to get into an apartment complex where Serb families still live.
``They burned our houses. They broke my ribs!'' shouted Fehmi Sahiti. ``Why should they live here in comfort?''
Ethnic Albanians, meanwhile, filtered back into towns where Serb forces rampaged in past weeks. In the northern town of Podujevo, Arben Maloku returned home after two months hiding in the mountains.
Out back was a rusty ax with what appeared to be bloodstains, and bones neighbors believed were human remains. Broken beer bottles and torn clothing littered the site.
``I think terrible things happened here,'' Maloku said.
Investigators for the international war crimes tribunal have begun inspecting such sites, including a town where peacekeepers found 20 charred bodies in one home.
British government officials have estimated that at least 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed in Serb massacres. About 90 mass graves have been reported.