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Kosovo Corps Is Civilian, West Says

September 15, 1999

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters and others will be recruited to form a new force called the Kosovo Corps, shortly after the ethnic Albanian rebel group is disbanded this weekend, international officials said Wednesday

Western backers describe the Kosovo Corps as a civilian unit meant to help rebuild the war-ravaged region and deal with natural disasters or other emergencies. But Serbia and its ally, Russia, fear the group is simply a new guise for the ethnic Albanian guerrilla army that fought to rid the province of Serb forces.

The International Organization for Migration, which is helping in the transformation of the KLA, said it will begin accepting applications for the new ``civilian emergency and humanitarian force″ on Monday _ one day after the deadline for the demilitarization of the KLA.

The organization has already registered 10,700 former KLA fighters for ``a reintegration program aimed at helping them to return to a normal civilian life″ and for possible membership in the Kosovo Corps, the IOM said in a statement.

The Kosovo Corps will have 5,000 members, including 3,000 who will serve full-time and the others as part-time reservists, the statement said.

Even after demilitarization, ``the KLA has a chance to be a force for good, to contribute to the rebuilding of Kosovo,″ NATO spokesman Ole Irgens said.

He urged Albanian community leaders and the KLA ``to exercise real leadership, to stop the killing, the burning of houses and the intimidation of non-Albanian minorities,″ adding that such violence will be dealt with severely.

Russia has made clear it insists on complete disbanding and demilitarization of the rebel army. U.N. and NATO officials have stressed that the Kosovo Corps will be civilian in nature, although members will wear uniforms.

Bernard Kouchner, the head of the U.N. mission in Kosovo, arrived in Moscow on Wednesday to try to win Russia’s support for the Kosovo Corps. But the Russians have warned they may reconsider their peacekeeping role in Kosovo because, they claim, the southern province is slipping away from Yugoslavia’s control.

In the newest reports of violence, the Serbian Orthodox Church said Wednesday that a medieval church, part of Zociste monastery near Orahovac, was blown up two days ago by unidentified ethnic Albanians. The monks had been expelled from the church and the monastery in June when it was robbed and damaged.

In other attacks Wednesday, NATO reported that five people were injured _ one seriously _ after a grenade was thrown at a cafe in a village south of Pristina and that a 35-year-old Gypsy man was found shot to death in Djakovica, to the southwest.

Since NATO peacekeepers arrived here June 12, Serbs, Montenegrins, Gypsies _ also known as Roma _ and others have been targeted by ethnic Albanians seeking revenge for Yugoslavia’s bloody 18-month crackdown in Kosovo. The crackdown ended when Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic accepted a peace plan to halt NATO’s bombing.

Meanwhile, peacekeepers on Wednesday reported seizing a large weapons stash from a Serb home in the eastern city of Gnjilane and confiscating a Serbian military police uniform and weapons from a man leaving Kosovo. The two separate discoveries added to NATO concerns of an organized Serb effort to disrupt Kosovo’s peace process.

In a positive development, the first civil marriage service was conducted in Pristina Wednesday, uniting Ramush Gashi of Pristina and Anna Maria Konet of Germany. The couple were married at the local city hall in a short ceremony performed by Enrique Aguilar, the regional U.N. administrator for Pristina.

For the first time in a decade, the bridal pair could exchange their vows in Albanian. Since 1989 all official ceremonies were only in Serbian.

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