June 17, 2000Nato removing Kosovo arms cache
KLECKA, Yugoslavia (AP) -- NATO-led peacekeepers started removing ordnance Saturday from the biggest illegal weapons cache uncovered in Kosovo since the end of fighting last year -- arms a British commander said were "almost certainly" hidden by ethnic Albanian extremists.
"I think that this is a very significant find," Brig. Gen. Richard Shireff, commander of British forces in Kosovo, said of the stacks of grenades, machine guns and other weapons. "It is almost certainly, almost entirely Albanian. All evidence we got here suggests that it is former KLA material."
KLA is an acronym for the Kosovo Liberation Army, a group of ethnic Albanian separatists who fought a Serb crackdown in this province. The leadership of the now formally disbanded KLA must have known about the weapon cache, and not divulging it as part of Kosovo's peace settlement reflects a "degree of noncompliance," Shireff said.
NATO officers said the weapons and ammunition were found Friday in this former KLA stronghold 20 miles southwest of Pristina.
Two underground bunkers were stacked to the ceilings with grenades, mortars, ammunition, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and other ordnance. Shireff said it appeared that some weapons had been recently removed. Other storage areas were found Saturday but it was unclear what they contained.
Diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity said that Agim Ceku, the former military chief of the KLA, met Saturday with senior representatives of Kosovo's Western diplomatic community. The arms find apparently was at the center of discussion.
Ceku now heads the Kosovo Protection Corps. The corps is officially a civil emergency response unit, but the Serbs say it actually is the successor to the KLA, which fought them in Kosovo until NATO forced an end to the bloodshed a year ago.
In September, NATO-led peacekeepers declared that the KLA had complied with orders to turn over all its weapons. On Sept. 20, NATO agreed to reorganize the KLA into the protection force under a deal personally negotiated by NATO's supreme commander for Europe, Gen. Wesley Clark.
British Lt. Col. David Allfrey, who commanded the search operation, suggested some of the missing weapons could have been used in recent attacks against Serb civilians. Serb community leaders believe such attacks are part of a campaign by ethnic Albanians to drive them from the province.
"What their designs are, it's not my position to say," Allfrey said. "But there have been a few killings in the Serb community in the last couple of weeks."
The cache was discovered as part of an exhaustive search for weapons. The search, which began Thursday, involved hundreds of peacekeepers and covered more than 38 square miles of central Kosovo.
A military training area was near the bunkers, which appeared to be well-kept. There were fresh footprints, according to NATO personnel on the scene.
"It's clearly been used for training. There is a very large quantity of ammunition," Allfrey said. NATO officers suggested that they expected to find even more arms, saying there appeared to be tunnels leading to other depots nearby.