PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- Members of the Kosovo rebel force gathered at NATO-designated assembly points Tuesday and began handing in weapons under a demilitarization deal with international peacekeepers.
Also Tuesday, Patriarch Pavle, Serbia's top religious leader, made a surprise visit to a seminary in the southern town of Prizren to persuade elderly Serbs holed up there to remain in the province despite continued looting and torching of Serb homes.NATO hopes its control in the southern province will be strengthened by the handover of weapons by the Kosovo Liberation Army, part of a June 21 demilitarization agreement.
Under the deal, the ethnic Albanian fighters must put their weapons into NATO-guarded storage sites and carry them only in designated assembly areas. They are also to vacate their military positions.
By Tuesday morning, 3,735 KLA fighters had assembled, believed to be one-quarter of the total force, said Lt. Col. Louis Garneau, a spokesman for the NATO-led peacekeeping force.
In addition, the KLA also collected 576 weapons, a small percentage of the total number believed to be in their hands. They have another 30 days to deliver the weapons.
The demilitarization measures are taking place at 40 designated arms collection points and 45 personnel assembly areas across Kosovo.
"What you are beginning to see is the reintroduction of former UCK members into the mainstream of Kosovo's society," Garneau said, using the Albanian-language initials of the rebel army.
British Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson, commander of the peacekeeping force, and Agim Ceku, the KLA's chief of staff, were scheduled to meet later Tuesday to discuss the demilitarization process.
Gen. Wesley Clark, the supreme NATO commander in Europe, said KLA commanders were cooperating well. But the test, he said, would be whether individual soldiers honor the handover or pursue their own vendettas.
In Beijing Tuesday, China denied a newspaper report that the May 7 bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia destroyed an intelligence-gathering center and that two of the three Chinese killed were intelligence officers, not reporters.
The three were "all correspondents. The capacity of the three correspondents is very clear no matter what lies are fabricated by U.S. media," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said at a twice-weekly briefing.