U.N., NATO OK formation of Kosovar civilian force; Deadline to dismantle KLA extended 10 days


PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- After weeks of complex negotiations, NATO and United Nations officials have agreed to the formation of a civilian emergency force from the remnants of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The army, once a guerrilla force against the Serbs, is being dismantled this month under U.N. supervision. But though its successor, tentatively called the Kosovo Corps, will retain much of its military command structure, the duties of the new force remain a sensitive issue.

Though NATO sees the Kosovo Corps as a civilian force, the rebel army's officers inevitably see it as a potential core of a future national army and are selling it to their followers as such.

"We will build a new army in the future, and the Kosovo Corps will be one part of it," said Gen. Agim Ceku, the chief of staff and a professional soldier for 20 years, who is negotiating the plan.

The Sept. 19 deadline for complete demilitarization of the 9,000 KLA troops has been extended 10 days, to allow more time for the transformation, according to a spokesman at the Kosovo army headquarters. But both army officers and officers from the NATO-led peacekeeping force have expressed confidence that the army will disarm.

Leaders of the rebel force have never hidden their ambition to turn the irregular force into a professional defensive army.

Even as they signed an undertaking in June to transform the army into a civilian force within three months, Ceku and the army's political leader, Hashim Thaci, said Kosovo would need its own armed force for the day NATO troops leave.

But after weeks of negotiations, they have settled for far less than that. The new force is mostly civilian, based on the Securite Civile in France, and intended to cope with national emergencies like forest fires, earthquakes, mountain rescue and reconstruction.

As a military observer with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said, referring to the peacekeeping force, known as KFOR: "The main thing to avoid is a clash between KFOR and the KLA. It is absolutely the last thing anyone wants because it would explode the whole operation here."

Aware of the difficulties of persuading guerrilla fighters to give up their weapons and adjust to civilian life, the peacekeepers and the United Nations are offering them a range of options that would provide employment and salaries.

Pub Date: 9/03/99

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