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Friday, September 3, 1999 Published at 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK

World: Europe

KLA fighters 'could join paramilitary force'

There are plans for a new force to absorb KLA personnel

As the deadline approaches for the demilitarisation of the Kosovo Liberation Army, there are reports that its members could be absorbed into a new force that would be allowed to bear arms.

Western officials hope to reach an agreement on the long-term future of the Kosovo Albanian guerrilla group by the time the deadline for its complete demilitarisation expires in just over two weeks.

Kosovo: Special Report
But while KLA leaders have signed a deal committing the guerrilla group to full disarmament, differences remain between the KLA and Western diplomats over the kind of body which will replace the KLA.

The British newspaper The Guardian reported on Friday that KLA members would be allowed to form a "national guard" which would wear uniforms and carry sidearms.

'Ethnic Albanian army'

The BBC's Nick Childs: "KLA fighters envisaged forming core of new army"
The newspaper says that KLA leaders intend to turn the national guard into an "ethnic Albanian army in Kosovo".

The report adds that the KLA is still at odds with Western negotiators over what sort of arms will be permissible in terms of the agreement.

In terms of the deal signed by KLA commander Hashim Thaci after Nato forces entered Kosovo, KLA fighters must hand in all their weapons and cease wearing KLA uniforms and insignia by 19 September.

But the deal also calls on the international community to give "due consideration" to the formation of an army in Kosovo along the lines of the US National Guard.

Sensitive issue

[ image: Hashim Thaci:
Hashim Thaci: "Demilitarisation on schedule"
Our correspondent Nick Childs says the West has been anxious to avoid allowing the KLA any overt military role in the future.

The issue is a sensitive one, given recent attacks on Kosovo's Serb minority by Albanian militants, and Nato's stated commitment to a multi-ethnic future for the province.

But Western officials are also concerned not to drive elements of the KLA underground, and have therefore discussed the possibility of giving an outlet to those members who want to continue in some sort of formation.

Western diplomats insist in public that the force would be civilian in nature, focusing on tasks such as fighting forest fires, reconstruction, and civilian rescue.

Such a corps could be lightly armed, and involve wearing a uniform, but Western officials insist that any weapons would be symbolic, and the uniform would not be a KLA one.

Mr Thaci said on Thursday he was committed to creating a "society of tolerance" in Kosovo, and the demilitarisation of the KLA would be completed on schedule.

On Friday, Mr Thaci met French Defence Minister Alain Richard, who "took note of the KLA's reaffirmed intentions to fulfil all its commitments," a ministry statement said.

Serb fears

[ image: Kosovo Albanians have clashed with Nato peacekeepers recently]
Kosovo Albanians have clashed with Nato peacekeepers recently
Serbia's opposition Serbian Renewal Movement has reacted sharply to reports that KLA members might continue to bear arms, warning that this would constitute a betrayal of the UN resolution.

The party said in a statement that "while K-For representatives are making firm promises that the KLA will be fully demilitarised by 19 September, the leaders of this terrorist organisation claim that they will continue their activities after this deadline and be transformed into a police force, some kind of 'national guard' and a newly-created political party".

"This should not be allowed to happen, because this represents a heavy blow to Resolution No 1244, both from KLA and from K-For, the UN Security Council and the other factors of the international community," the statement said.

DM to replace dinar

In another development, the UN has announced that the German mark (DM) is to replace the Yugoslav dinar as the major official currency in Kosovo - pushing the province one step further away from Belgrade's rule.

Bernard Kouchner, head of the UN mission in Kosovo, signed a new regulation allowing the use of the mark, US dollar, Swiss franc and other convertible currencies, according to UN officials.

But taxes are to be paid only in marks, and an additional fee will be levied on anyone who continues to pay tax in dinars.

Correspondents say the adoption of the mark could raise questions about Kosovo's continued status as part of Yugoslavia.

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