KLA Agrees to Lay Down Weapons |
By Laura King
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- The last of 40,000 Yugoslav troops rolled out of war-battered Kosovo on Sunday, prompting NATO to declare a formal end to its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.
Negotiators from the NATO-led peacekeeping force also reached a demilitarization agreement with the Kosovo Liberation Army that called on the rebels to turn over their heavy weapons, U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said.
The final Yugoslav troops left Kosovo on Sunday, and by midday NATO said only stragglers remained. Under the Kosovo peace plan, all troops had to be out by midnight Sunday.
In the hamlet of Livadica on Kosovo's northern border, Avdyl Avdullahu sat on his wooden horse cart and watched the Serb soldiers trundle northward in buses, trucks and armored vehicles.
``In my 70 years, never have I had a happier day,'' the ethnic Albanian said.
With the troops gone, NATO officially ended the airstrikes against Yugoslavia. Secretary-General Javier Solana said he had ``decided to terminate with immediate effect the air campaign which I suspended on June 10,'' after the Kosovo peace deal was signed.
Under the demilitarization agreement, the KLA agreed to stop carrying weapons in many parts of Kosovo and to place anything bigger than a sidearm or hunting rifle in storage within 30 days, Berger said.
The agreement also calls for the rebels to maintain a cease-fire, expel all foreign members and respect the peacekeepers' authority on security matters, he said. The deal still needed formal approval by both camps.
Tens of thousands of Kosovo Serbs, fearful the departure of the Serbian troops will leave them vulnerable to rebel attacks, have been fleeing from Kosovo in an exodus that mirrored the flight of ethnic Albanians under a Serb crackdown two months earlier.
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has tried to conceal the Serb exodus, which he reportedly sees as a sign of defeat his enemies could use to unseat him.
The government has prevented the refugees from getting near Belgrade, blocked their attempts to set up tent cities and urged them to go home to the province many Serbs consider the cradle of their culture.
Yugoslav ministers accompanied convoys of refugees back into Kosovo on Sunday. The state-run Tanjug news agency said more than 1,000 people left for Kosovo from the city of Nis, 140 from Krusevac and 40 from Kragujevac.
But even as some Serbs returned to Kosovo, others reportedly were leaving. A group of about 200 made it to Belgrade and staged a brief demonstration Sunday.
Some Belgrade residents jeered them.
``Why did you have to flee? Slobo said you can stay,'' an elderly woman shouted, using Milosevic's nickname.
``We didn't come here because we wanted to,'' said demonstrator Slobodan Filic. ``Suffering made us come. Suffering made us flee.''
In an indication the crisis could fuel Milosevic's opponents, the board of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement called Sunday for urgent reforms. Party leader Vuk Draskovic said party members should be ``ready to do what we have to do if the regime doesn't come to its senses.''
The future of Kosovo could depend on what role the KLA assumes. Since the peace deal, the rebels have been asserting themselves across the province, even appointing a city administration and police force in the city of Prizren.
A top KLA official, Mehmet Hajrizi, said the group intends to ``transform itself into a security force for Kosovo.'' But NATO, which sees itself as the only security force for the time being, was taking weapons away from rebels at checkpoints around Pristina and Prizren, Kosovo's two largest cities, even before the demilitarization agreement was reached.
Even so, the climate of violence persisted in some areas. Three Serbs were killed and a fourth badly wounded -- each with a shot to the forehead -- in the village of Belo Polje near Pec on Saturday. Near Gnjilane, where U.S. peacekeepers have their headquarters, Marines arrested a Serb suspected of killing one man and wounding two others in a sniper attack.
On Sunday afternoon, a loud explosion rocked the Kosovo capital, Pristina. British troops said the blast in a courtyard of Pristina University came from an explosive device attached to a timer.
Meanwhile, the first investigators for the international war crimes tribunal began inspecting sites, spokesman Paul Risley said. He said they will conduct more extensive examinations into alleged atrocities early next week.
British government officials have estimated that at least 10,000 ethnic Albanians were killed in Serb massacres. Some 90 mass grave sites have been reported.
Among the sites under scrutiny Sunday was Velika Krusa, a town near Prizren in southwestern Kosovo, where peacekeepers last week found a house with 20 charred bodies believed to be ethnic Albanian victims of a mass execution. Velika Krusa was one of the sites mentioned in the international war crimes tribunal's indictment of Milosevic.
© 1999 The Associated Press