The leadership of the Kosovo Liberation Army reacted cautiously but positively tonight to the apparent settlement of the Kosovo crisis, saying it would suspend military operations in the Serbian province in tandem with, and subject to, the same conditions as set by NATO.
But a spokesman for the separatist ethnic Albanian guerrilla force declined to address in detail the plan's provision for KLA "demilitarization."
NATO said today that it will suspend its bombing campaign if it can verify the beginning of a speedy withdrawal of all Yugoslav troops and Serbian police and paramilitary forces from Kosovo. Officials with the rebel group said that if all Yugoslav and Serbian forces do begin to withdraw, the guerrillas will not try to attack them.
"We will not target them," said Jakup Krasniqi, spokesman for the rebel-led interim government of Kosovo, in an interview tonight. "We have cooperated very well with the international community and NATO. And that will continue."
"What happened today is a very positive sign," Krasniqi said, "and it shows that the international community's pressure and the resistance of the Kosovo people as organized by the KLA has achieved this result." Kosovo is a province of Serbia, the dominant republic of Yugoslavia.
Krasniqi was unwilling to discuss in detail the issue of guerrilla demilitarization, as called for in the peace plan. "At this stage of the war, without the withdrawal of all [government] forces, it is unreasonable to speak of demilitarization," he said.
The KLA has long said it would not disarm automatically as a result of any peace agreement, and in recent weeks it has reacted angrily to embryonic proposals by the Group of Seven industrialized nations and Russia that called for the immediate disbanding of the rebels as an armed force.
Still, the use of the word "demilitarization" rather than disarmament may allow for reconstitution of the KLA in a manner acceptable to the rebels. Visar Reka, an adviser to Krasniqi, said in an interview this week that after a settlement the KLA would reduce its size quickly as some guerrillas return to civilian life. But a core, he said, could be used to form a new police force in Kosovo, and some members could act as local liaison for any international peacekeeping force.
The rebels, who fought a yearlong insurgency in Kosovo before NATO's intervention, are not likely to agree to complete disarmament, and some Western observers fear that could lead to strains between the KLA and the Western alliance.
Many rebels here remain suspicious of any deal with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and of a deployment in Kosovo of peacekeeping troops from Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia. The rebels insist that any peacekeeping force be commanded by NATO, and many say they need to reserve the right to resurrect their fighting forces should an agreement with Belgrade collapse.
Despite its commitment to independence for Kosovo, the KLA realizes that the province is likely to be an international protectorate along the lines of Bosnia for a number of years, officials with the group said. The peace plan explicitly acknowledges that Kosovo remains part of Serbia.
CAPTION: KLA members march to a cemetery in Kukes, Albania, for the funeral of a guerrilla shot by a Serbian sniper on Wednesday.