Nato melting down stockpile of seized Kosovo arms

PRISTINA, Apr 24, 2000 -- (Reuters) NATO-led peacekeepers have stockpiled tens of thousands of illegal weapons in Kosovo and begun melting them down for scrap metal, a force spokesman said on Friday.

He gave an impressive tally of arms turned into or confiscated by KFOR in almost a year of enforcing peace. But criminals and paramilitaries still have little trouble obtaining and hiding guns in poorly policed Kosovo and armed violence remains common.

Major Frank Benjaminsen said KFOR had collected more than 1,100 machineguns and mortars, over 500 anti-tank rockets and 26 anti-aircraft weapons since moving into Kosovo last June as Serbian security forces withdrew under NATO air attack.

A further 13,000 rifles, almost 2,500 pistols, around 30,000 explosive devices and over 7.5 million rounds of ammunition had been amassed at KFOR depots, he told a news briefing.

"Currently under heavy security, the weapons are being transported to a location for their final destruction. Once there, they are melted down for use as scrap metal."

KFOR announces arms seizures virtually every day in this traditionally militarized society where ownership and smuggling of assault weaponry is legion.

Much of Kosovo's armed violence under post-war UN administration has been attributed to officially demobilized former ethnic Albanian guerrillas or associated paramilitary gangsters.

Murder and arson rates have fallen dramatically since KFOR arrived. But Western officials say privately this is mainly because almost all minority Serbs who had lived near majority ethnic Albanians have fled Kosovo in terror of attack.

Many ethnic Albanians avenged the Serbian authorities' fierce anti-guerrilla campaign in 1998-99 in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were driven from their homes and scores of towns and villages were blown up.

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