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Stephen Farrell in Pristina hears the ominous claims of a guerrilla chief renouncing the Rambouillet accord

 

KLA 'will not give up guns to Nato'

THE Kosovo Liberation Army will not hand over its weapons to Nato forces and intends to turn itself into a national army with the eventual goal of an independent Kosovo, a senior KLA commander said yesterday.

Directly contradicting the KLA's public support for the agreement reached at Rambouillet, Rustem Mustafa, one of seven regional commanders, said he expected Nato to train its 50,000 soldiers, to provide weapons to replace their old ones and to share security for Kosovo with the KLA.

It was unclear whether Mr Mustafa, who commands the area around Pristina, was speaking with the authority of his political and military leaders, or if his comments marked differences within the organisation whose forces marched triumphantly into towns vacated by Serb forces earlier this week. Nato is adamant that it will seize weapons from all sides who threaten the security of Kosovo, and sources last night dismissed many of the remarks. But military equipment was on display at the large hillside house where Mr Mustafa - known as Remi - wore a handgun bearing the Albanian double-headed eagle. Uniformed sentries with Kalashnikovs stood outside his new headquarters in a wealthy ethnic Albanian suburb of Pristina.

"I believe that we will not give up our weapons. We will collect them all in one place and they will be in our barracks," Mr Mustafa said. He claimed that the decision not to give up guns was official KLA policy. Asked what would happen if Nato demanded their surrender, he replied: "Nato has not done this and I hope they won't ask this thing from us. We are co-operating with them and I believe they will help us in the construction of the army."

Questioned whether all the arms would be kept he replied: "Some of them are bad weapons, so we don't plan to keep them. We expect Nato will bring us new weapons."

The KLA is a shadowy organisation whose structure and leadership is unclear. Its headquarters during the war was near Malisevo, southwest of Pristina, and Mr Mustafa's officials claim the military structure is divided into seven operational zones, each with its own commander and brigade. These in turn are divided into battalions of 500 men, companies of 100 and platoons. Political links are at brigade level.

The KLA's presence terrifies Serb civilians, thousands of whom are fleeing in fear of revenge attacks once the Yugoslav Army has withdrawn. Mr Mustafa confirmed an incident in which five suspected KLA members were arrested by British paratroopers in Pristina on suspicion of killing a Serb on Monday night, but said he was in discussion with Nato and shrugged it off as a "misunderstanding".

He said Serbs with "clean hands" could continue to live in Kosovo, but gave a clear hint that reprisals could follow against those deemed to have helped Serb forces. "We were here all the time so we know who has done what. We have information," he said.

As he spoke a short-wave radio, a translated copy of Dr Noel Malcom's Kosovo, a Short History and a satellite telephone stood at hand. Only Serb telephones still work in the capital, and the lines to Albanian houses have not yet been restored.

"First of all some of our soldiers will become policemen and the National Guard will be kept, then we will recruit new soldiers and, after some time, it will become a regular army," he said.

The prospect of 10,000 more Russian troops being based in the province did not unduly bother him, he said. "If the Russian troops come under the same Nato command, I am not concerned. But if they come with a separate command I would see them as an occupation force, as enemy forces."

Nato sources last night dismissed Mr Mustafa's remarks. They pointed out that the KLA had signed the Rambouillet accord, and insisted its political leaders were "behind what we aim to do".

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