KLA Demilitarization Finalized

Kosovo Liberation army leaders and the NATO-led peacekeeping force signed an agreement late Monday on the demilitarization of the former rebel army and its transformation into a civilian corps, a statement said.

"During the meeting the outstanding issues from the previous night were fully resolved. The new civilian organization will have the full title of Kosovo Protection Corps. It will work under the direction of the special representatives of the (U.N.) secretary general" and operate under the supervision of the commander of KFOR, the peacekeeing force," the KFOR statement said.

In a bid to head off a crisis with ethnic Albanians, NATO sent its top general to Kosovo on Monday to urge KLA leaders to accept a formula for the civilian corps to replace their former rebel army. Gen. Wesley Clark flew unexpectedly to the Kosovo capital after KLA leaders Hashim Thaci and Gen. Agim Ceku refused to sign an agreement accepting NATO's proposed, 5,000-member civilian corps.

The statement said, "A limited number of weapons will be available for personal protection and the number of weapons available to KPC personnel responsible for guarding and protection duties has been agreed at 200."

As part of Monday's signing ceremony, Thaci signed a statement agreeing to the transformation process. Bernard Kouchner, the U.N. chief in Kosovo, signed a regulation giving the Kosovo Protection Corps legal status.

He then presented to Ceku a letter appointing him as provisional commander of the Kosovo Protection Corps.

"KLA personnel will cease wearing uniforms and KLA insignia from midnight Sept. 21," the KFOR statement said.

The KLA's refusal, following an all-night negotiating marathon, forced the Kosovo peacekeeping commander, Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson, to extend by 48 hours the deadline for the complete demilitarization of the former rebel army.

During a break in talks with Clark, Thaci told reporters that the "demilitarization process has ended" and that the talks were focusing on "technical issues and they are getting regulated and clarified."

"We will have an agreement very soon," Thaci said. "We arrived at clear conclusions which are acceptable and they will get defined very clearly very soon."

He also said Ceku would be the head of the new Kosovo Corps, although there was no confirmation from NATO sources.

Early Monday, Jackson said the KLA's refusal to accept the Kosovo Corps plan "is in danger of unsettling the future of the vast majority of the (rebel) membership and indeed perhaps Kosovo's future as a whole."

The impasse threatened to upset the delicate relations between NATO-led peacekeepers and the 1.2 million ethnic Albanians whom the troops were sent here to protect in June at the end of the 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

KLA commanders want the new corps to be the basis for the future national amy of an independent Kosovo. That was their goal during the 18-month war with the Serbs, which ended when Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic accepted a U.N.-backed plan to halt the NATO bombing.

NATO officials said a major stumbling block was the system of proposed rules for carrying weapons in the Kosovo Corps.

The standoff appeared in part to be a show of strength by Thaci and the KLA leaders, who have complained that U.N. and NATO officials have not consulted them enough in the administration of the province.

Thaci considers himself the leader of the Kosovo Albanians, although other Kosovo politicians, notably moderate Ibrahim Rugova, also claim the mantle of leadership. NATO and the United Nations are attempting to avoid favoritism until proposed elections next year sort out power relationships among the factious Albanian community.

NATO has insisted that the foreign peacekeepers must be the only armed force in Kosovo. The Russians and Serbs who consider the KLA terrorists responsible for attacks against Serb civilians oppose any formula that might let the KLA keep the same organizational structure under a different name.