What to do with the revolutionaries
Stars and Stripes June 29, 2003
Peacekeepers face a strange challenge in Kosovo: What do you do with revolutionaries once the revolution is over?
Traditionally, revolutionaries simply took the place of the powers they overthrew. But in today’s age of Pax Americana, NATO and the United Nations — where rebels themselves aren’t necessarily the ones who send dictators packing — the question becomes pricklier. With America also wrestling with how to deal with opposition allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, the reality of how it rewards old friends in Kosovo could prove telling.
There, past alliances have meant international tension over the alumni of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Thousands of former fighters now belong to a controversial civil protection corps. Radicals have risen again in new groups. And some with the United Nations even accuse America of helping wartime allies evade postwar justice.
“A lot of these guerrilla groups have been trained and financed by the United States,” one U.N. official said. “It puts the people who used to train these guerrillas in a difficult position.”
One critic was more blunt.
“The arming of Albanians and all that was greatly counterproductive,” said Jan Oberg, director for the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, and a former negotiator between Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova. He charged that the West overlooked political leaders in favor of the combat convenience of the armed KLA.
“We think we’re practicing Western values,” Oberg said, “but Rugova was clearly closer to those.”
Before NATO found the KLA useful, the State Department dubbed it a terrorist group. Now, five thousand former members of the KLA belong to the Kosovo Protection Corps, a group organized to provide disaster relief. Critics with the United Nations have called it a breeding ground for extremists, a charge the corps hotly rejects.
“It’s a jobs program for guerilla fighters,” said Barry Fletcher, deputy spokesman for the U.N. police force in Kosovo.
American officials flatly deny any links to radicals. President Bush has also banned Americans from donating money to several individuals and groups believed to pursue Balkan violence.
“We don’t want Kosovo to be a haven for extremists,” said Brig. Gen. Daniel Keefe, commander of U.S. forces in Kosovo. He called members of KLA spin-offs such as the Albanian National Army, “bad people who want to use force and certainly that’s something we want to fight against. … They want to take Kosovo to the past.”
The ANA aims to undo the peace reached between Kosovo neighbor Macedonia and the National Liberation Army. The NLA wanted to carve an independent Albanian zone out of largely Slavic Macedonia. In April, two people believed to be members of the ANA died while attempting to blow up a bridge in the Mitrovica area.
Police have said one of those killed was a member of the civil protection service. Another man arrested in connection with the bombing was one of its spokesmen.
“The whole issue is a time bomb,” another U.N. official said of the KPC. “People are scared. Our own police are scared. They still have power. They still have weapons.”
The official said he feared a coup attempt.
U.N. authorities believe large numbers of the KPC left their barracks to fight in Macedonia during that uprising. Critics often charge that agitators from the original KLA tried to incite a new war to the south.
“It was a spillover from Kosovo, rather than an indigenous conflict,” Oberg said.
Gen. Agim Çeku, commander of the KPC, said any charge that large numbers of his people are involved in militant groups is toxic speculation. His corps is firmly under the jurisdiction of the United Nations and NATO’s Kosovo Force, he said, and those overseers should deal with any threat.
“If there are ‘large numbers’ or ‘many members’ involved, they must take action,” Çeku said in a written response to questions.
He pledged that he would not accept any behavior that would endanger Kosovo’s emerging democracy.
“We cannot tolerate illegal activity and are actively trying to rid ourselves of the image,” Çeku said. “… There is certainly no way [the KPC] is institutionally involved in such activities.”
The International Organization for Migration, which helped other Kosovo fighters find jobs, also works with and defends the corps.
“The members of the KPC are very proud of what they do,” said Tamara Osorio, spokeswoman for the migration agency in Kosovo. The corps uses computers to train for chemical spill scenarios. Members have traveled to Austria, Prague, Czech Republic and South Africa to attend civil protection conferences. And they helped earthquake victims in the town of Gnjilane last year.
“Every time an individual does something, they blame the KPC,” Osorio said. “You cannot blame the institution.”
She said providing a job for former KLA fighters is key to Balkan peace.
“If you don’t give them something to do immediately and give them some hope, they can go back to weapons.”
Çeku said he believes the KPC would one day become the military for a sovereign Kosovo, but civil protection is very much its mission now.
“We are totally focused and committed to our present role,” he said.
Whether the KPC consists mostly of firefighters or simply fighters, suspicions remain that the U.S. government hasn’t completely severed ties to the harder elements of the KLA.
Last month, Serbia accused the U.S. military of covertly training Shefket Musliu, a key figure in another KLA spin-off group that tried to foment revolution in Serbia’s Presevo Valley, at its Camp Bondsteel post. The military has said it merely arrested Musliu.
Such a Serbian claim might sound predictable. Other accusations are more troubling:
• U.N. police charge that the U.S. military obstructed an investigation linking Ramush Haradinaj, a former KLA commander, with murder, drugs and war crimes.
Widely known simply as Ramush, the former warrior was reportedly the U.S. military’s key intelligence man on the ground during the war with Serbia.
The Observer, a British daily, reported in Sept. 2000 that U.S. officials removed bullets and other evidence from the scene of a shootout involving Ramush, though the melee went down outside American jurisdiction.
The military then reportedly flew Ramush to Camp Bondsteel, and later Germany, for treatment of shrapnel wounds. The fight was with members of a clan claiming one of its family was assassinated on Ramush’s order.
After much haggling, the military handed over evidence. U.N. police are still concerned about the implications.
“He’s still here,” police spokesman Derek Chappell said of Ramush, “and head of one of the major political parties.”
• Police also question the escape of alleged bomb plotter Florim Ejupi from Bondsteel in 2001. Ejupi was a suspect in the bombing of a busload of Serbs that killed 11 people and injured several others. Police handed Ejupi over to the U.S. military, thinking Bondsteel would be the most secure place in Kosovo.
Apparently, that wasn’t the case.
“He vanished from Bondsteel in an orange suit, allegedly with a file smuggled to him in a spinach pie,” Chappell said. “I’d be embarrassed to say that. It sounds like something out of a cartoon.”
Ejupi was not considered a criminal mastermind, but a small-time hood who served time in Germany for drug dealing, burglary, attempted manslaughter and assault.
Police also arrested three other suspects in the bombing, all of them KPC members. Ejupi, however, was the key to the case. Investigators had DNA evidence connecting him to the bombing. Without Ejupi, the United Nations eventually had to release the other suspects.
International officials placed the blame on the CIA or another intelligence agency, the alleged motivation being reluctance to see Ejupi questioned.
“We’re not saying KFOR did it,” said Fletcher, the deputy police spokesman. “We’re not saying the American Army did it. They probably didn’t know about it.”
• U.N. officials also allege that Gen. Sylejman Selimi, deputy commander of the KPC and known as the “Sultan,” was spirited away by American intelligence officers when police wanted to question him about the death of Bekim Kastrati.
Kastrati, a journalist sympathetic to Rugova, and his bodyguard were shot dead in October 2001. A third person was injured.
“We think he was taken away by someone who didn’t want him questioned,” a U.N. official said, most likely to Malta or Cyprus or both. At least seven others have been arrested in connection with the case.
Çeku, though, challenged the claim, saying that his deputy is now in Kosovo and willing to cooperate.
“General Selimi has been abroad in the past, but on no occasion was this for the purpose of avoiding justice,” Çeku said. “The U.S. and U.N. authorities, including ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia), know his whereabouts, and his willingness to cooperate with inquiry.”
Çeku also curtly dismissed the notion that the United States would illegally aid any former allies.
“It is an absurd claim that in the present era the USA would help former KLA members or anyone else to avoid prosecution,” he said.
The international court is believed to hold sealed war crimes indictments against several current ethnic Albanian leaders. In February, police and NATO peacekeepers arrested the first four ethnic Albanians to face such charges, including KLA figure Rrustem Mustafa.
The men are charged with multiple counts of murder, unlawful arrest, kidnapping and torture.