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Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
Belgrade, KLA Move Forward on Arms Control, Disarmament

THREE MONTHS AFTER the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from the embattled province of Kosovo, Yugoslavia has renewed its implementation of the June 1996 Agreement on Sub-Regional Arms Control and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has been certified as having completed its demilitarization. Also in September, talks on creating a "regional balance in and around the former Yugoslavia" were resumed.

A week after the March 24 onset of NATO's 11-week bombing campaign, Belgrade formally suspended its participation in the subregional agreement, which limits the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters that the parties to the agreement can possess. As part of the agreement, Yugoslavia (comprised of Serbia and Montenegro), the two entities of Bosnia-Herzegovina (the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian-Serb-controlled Republica Srpska) and Croatia annually exchange information on and allow inspections of their military holdings.

At a September 23-24 meeting of the parties, the first under the agreement since Belgrade's unilateral suspension, Yugoslavia agreed to complete its scheduled inspections, including those that had been postponed, by the end of the year. Belgrade will conduct a total of four inspections and will permit five on its forces.

In addition, Yugoslavia provided an updated accounting of its military holdings, which prior to the NATO bombing campaign had equaled Belgrade's ceilings for all five weapons categories (1,025 tanks, 850 ACVs, 3,750 artillery, 155 combat aircraft and 53 attack helicopters). Yugoslavia reportedly claimed its largest reduction, roughly a third, in combat aircraft, while reporting almost negligible changes in holdings for tanks and ACVs and slight reductions in artillery and attack helicopters.

For its part, NATO, in a September 16 press briefing, claimed to have carried out "successful strikes" against 93 tanks, 153 armored personnel carriers, 339 military vehicles and 389 artillery and mortar sites. These figures do not appear to correspond with Yugoslavia's revised holdings reported under the subregional agreement, suggesting that NATO may have overestimated its damage inflicted on Yugoslav forces, that Yugoslavia may have held equipment in excess of its limits, that Yugoslavia may have under-reported its losses, or some combination of the three.

If Yugoslavia wants to replace lost weapons up to its ceilings, Belgrade must provide evidence of each piece of equipment destroyed before a replacement can be acquired under the subregional agreement. Belgrade, however, is currently subject to a UN arms embargo and cannot import any weapons.

KLA Disarmed

On September 20, KFOR Commander General Mike Jackson certified the KLA, the ethnic Albanian separatist group in Kosovo, as having complied with a June 21 agreement to turn over its weapons. The wearing of KLA uniforms and insignia also ceased on midnight September 20 as part of the agreement for the KLA to demilitarize, which was explicitly called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

In an assessment released October 6, KFOR reported that the KLA had voluntarily handed over more than 36,000 weapons. On September 16, Yugoslavia called the KLA disarmament a "farce," charging that only outdated weapons were being turned over. The estimated 17,000-member KLA has only handed over 6,831 rifles and 737 machine guns by KFOR's own accounting. KFOR has confiscated some 1,300 rifles and 300 pistols from KLA members and took more than 300 weapons from Serbs. A KFOR spokesperson said October 12 that the international force was continuing to confiscate weapons on a "daily basis," and explained that KFOR "never pretended that every individual would comply [with the demilitarization agreement]."

To help win the KLA's support for demilitarization, the United Nations agreed to the establishment of a 5,000 man Kosovo Protection Corps, which will initially be composed of a "significant portion" of former KLA members. The Kosovo Protection Corps, which will be permitted a "trust" of 2,000 weapons (only 200 of which can be in use at one time), will be charged with responding to natural disasters and other emergencies. Both Moscow and Belgrade denounced the creation of the Corps.

Regional Talks

Twenty nations, including Yugoslavia, met in Vienna on September 6 to revive discussions on finding "lasting solutions for the stabilization of South-Eastern Europe." The talks, however, made little headway as many of the participating states are preoccupied with completing an adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty by mid-November (See feature).

When resumed in earnest, the talks, which are called for under Article V of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, are not expected to address weapons limits because only four states in the region—Albania, Austria, Macedonia and Slovenia—are currently without such limits.