It was not an assault rifle but a scythe that Afrim Halili propped on his shoulder today, as the Kosovo Liberation Army made good on its promise to stow its guns and uniforms and cede authority to a multinational force led by NATO.
"There is no need to keep them, because when you're free you don't need them," said Halili, 19, standing in a field that had become badly overgrown during the nearly three months his family spent running from Serb-led Yugoslav troops. "If I have a hunting rifle for the rabbits, I don't need anything else."
As of midnight Monday, no KLA member was to wear a uniform or display a gun in public. It was the first deadline in a demilitarization agreement with NATO that calls for the ethnic Albanian guerrilla force to surrender all arms within 90 days and don uniforms only in designated "assembly areas" that amount to military bases.
NATO commanders declared themselves "broadly satisfied" with KLA compliance. "I am mindful that the KLA is an irregular army," said Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson, the British commander of the peacekeeping force. "I expect to see some stragglers coming to the assembly areas in the days ahead. The leadership and the great bulk are showing compliance."
The issue looms large in this province of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, where there is still sporadic violence 18 days after the arrival of NATO troops. Today, British forces patrolling south of Pristina, the Kosovo capital, killed an armed man who made a gesture as if to shoot at them. Overnight, Italian forces arrested 40 Kosovo Albanians in a crackdown on looting and arson near the western city of Pec.
But the more pernicious threat was suggested by a midafternoon discovery in a river on the northern fringe of Pristina. It was the body of a man, mouth gagged, arms bound in back and bruised from what a British soldier said appeared to be a severe beating. Adem Ademi, an ethnic Albanian, showed up at the city morgue two hours later to see if it might be his cousin. "My family heard he was being held by the KLA, so I have come to check," he said.
He did not recognize the corpse, but Ademi was not alone in assuming the worst of the KLA, whose members in the past two weeks have been implicated in avenging atrocities by Serb-led forces against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority during the war, or punishing those suspected of collaborating with them.
"Intimidation has been going on," Jackson acknowledged. "There is some indication that some -- a small number of people purporting to be in the KLA and perhaps wearing the uniform -- may have been involved."
Just how slippery disarming the KLA will be was demonstrated by the wildly varying estimates of its membership. A NATO spokesman said the 3,735 KLA members who turned up at the 45 assembly areas before the deadline accounted for a substantial portion of a force estimated at 8,000. Later in the day, a senior KLA commander put the force at 20,000 members, saying many were "on leave" to resettle their families.
No one has ventured a reliable estimate of how many guns the KLA has, although that did not prevent NATO and the rebels from agreeing that 30 percent of the inventory would be under lock and key by July 22. Only 576 weapons have been turned over so far.
"If you own a gun are you going to turn it in 30 days before you have to?" asked Lt. Col. Robin Hodges of the British army. "That makes you half a man in this community." Hodges did not, however, suggest that a guerrilla force that survived Serbian domination by hiding its guns and seldom wearing uniforms would dismantle itself meekly. "In the last fortnight we've removed the guns and removed the uniforms," he said. "I doubt that we're going to remove the organization behind it yet."
The incentive for cooperation is NATO's promise to consider KLA members for police training and as the basis for a Kosovo national guard, an idea favored by the rebel leadership but not yet endorsed by NATO.
Meanwhile, U.N. officials began this week to establish a provisional judicial system to process the more than 200 people NATO has arrested. A panel of judges -- two ethnic Albanians, a Serb, a Muslim Slav and three others from international organizations -- is expected to conduct the first hearings on Thursday.