Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Rugova asked to be buried alongside fallen KLA guerrillas

Rogova's resting place is being prepared by voluntaries for Thursday's burial ceremony.

Members of KPC (Former KLA soldiers) stand guard wile visitors pay their respects. Reports say that Rugova had asked to be buried in the cemetery with the fallen soldiers of the former Kosova Liberation Army.

PRISTINA, Kosovo- Kosovo president and pacifist icon Ibrahim Rugova will be buried this week alongside fallen guerrillas of the 1998-99 war in a rare gesture of unity among ethnic Albanians.

''His wish was to be buried in the martyrs' graveyard,'' a source close to the presidency told Reuters yesterday, as thousands queued in driving snow to see Rugova's flag-draped coffin in parliament.

The funeral will take place on Thursday.

The martyrs' graveyard is a Pristina cemetery reserved for members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Many former guerrillas and their supporters never forgave the scholarly Rugova for refusing to throw his weight behind their armed struggle for independence from Serbia, which eclipsed his policy of passive resistance.

But a source in the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), the civil successor to the disbanded KLA, said the corps, which will take part in the burial ceremony
, would ''act in accordance'' with the decision of the funeral committee.

The arrangement was in keeping with a thaw in relations between the two camps since Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo entered a coalition in December 2004 with former guerrilla commander Ramush Haradinaj, who became prime minister.

Haradinaj, who later quit to face charges before the United Nations war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia, visited the Rugova family after the 61-year-old president's death from lung cancer on Saturday.

Rugova leaves a leadership vacuum in the U.N. protectorate on the eve of UN-mediated talks to decide whether the 90 percent Albanian majority wins independence, or Kosovo remains part of Serbia, as Belgrade says it must.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said he wanted to attend the funeral, posing a potential security headache for the NATO-led peacekeeping force. During his first and only visit to Kosovo last year Tadic's convoy was stoned and pelted with eggs when passing through Albanian areas.

''It would be a matter of basic courtesy for the Serbian
president to go to Kosovo, which is part of Serbia's territorial integrity, and pay his respects to the political representative of the Albanian people,'' Tadic told Beta news agency.

A UN official said they had received Tadic's request and had passed it on to Rugova's family. It would be up to them and the Kosovo presidency to decide, not the U.N. mission.

''The funeral should not be politicised,'' the official said.

Rugova was the architect of a decade of passive resistance from the moment former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic stripped Kosovo of its autonomy in 1989. With an underground system of schools and health care, he created a parallel state.

But he underestimated his people's readiness to die for their cause and clung stubbornly to his tactics as support swung behind the guerrilla KLA in 1998.

He was sidelined when NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to compel the withdrawal from Kosovo of Serb forces accused of atrocities against civilians, but regained the political ascendancy after the United Nations took control.

While Kosovo Albanians look for a successor, the U.N.

mission has called for unity, fearing a messy power struggle that could delay a Western-backed process seen leading to independence.

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