The Albanians' New Model Army

Is the Albanian National Army a serious threat to the Macedonian peace process or a group of dysfunctional ideologues?

The Albanians' New Model Army

Is the Albanian National Army a serious threat to the Macedonian peace process or a group of dysfunctional ideologues?

Emerging at first through email statements and mysterious communiqués, the Albanian National Army was first dismissed as an Internet army, a virtual force with mere on-screen presence. But the radical grouping, known as the ANA, is being taken more and more seriously as streams of declarations call on Albanians in the region to take up the struggle for a Greater Albania. Claiming responsibility for two attacks in Macedonia leaving 17 soldiers dead, it had been portrayed as a potential spoiler of the Macedonia peace deal. But who are they?

The group seems to have emerged from two main sources: from political parties springing from the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, and from National Liberation Army, NLA, fighters in Macedonia disenchanted with the recent peace deal there. They seem to have bases in Macedonia, Kosovo and southern Serbia's Presevo Valley.

So far they have claimed responsibility for the deaths of two policemen in southern Serbia in early August and two separate attacks in Macedonia which claimed the lives of 17 soldiers at a crucial juncture in the recent peace negotiations.

ANA spokesman Alban Hoxha (likely a nom de guerre), in email communications with IWPR, has said the group was founded in December 1999 by a KLA faction committed to fighting for a unified Greater Albania. Based on pre-1913 boundaries, this would take in territory in Kosovo, Montenegro Serbia, Macedonia and Greece.

In a press communiqué released August 20, the ANA high command claimed that that it was not affiliated to any one political party and that press speculation on its make-up and leadership was erroneous.

Skopje has pointed the finger directly at Ramush Haradinaj, leader of Kosovo's third-largest party, the Aliance for the Future of Kosova, as the prime mover behind the organisation. Haradinaj, a former KLA commander, has categorically denied any connection with either the ANA or any other grouping outside of his own party.

Bajram Kosumi, vice-president of Haradinaj's Alliance party, has even spoken out against the ANA, calling their rejection of the Ohrid peace deal between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians harmful. "The implementation of the Ohrid agreement . . . guarantees the rights of the Albanians and this is a strong and convincing argument for the ANA to cease its activities," he said.

The Kosovo press meanwhile has speculated that the roots of the ANA lie in the Albanian Revolutionary Party in Switzerland or the Albanian Communist party in Albania proper. Though the former are proponents of a Greater Albania, they have denied involvement with the ANA.

Skopje has also sought to point the blame at the NLA fighter Xhavit Hasani, who has himself made threatening statements against the Ohrid agreement and claimed responsibility for killing Macedonian forces. Yet Hasani, speaking to the Kosovo press, has also denied having anything to do with the group.

The ANA, for its part, has said in its communiqués that it maintains contacts with all groups which have expressed their desire for a Greater Albania. Prominent among these is the National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo, whose leader, Sabit Gashi, recently cropped up on a list of undesirable extremists deemed persona non grata by Washington.

Yet such ANA claims are rejected. Gashi has said like other pro-Albanian unity parties that he believes in the ANA's aims but that "we are against the armed struggle this force is pursuing". Besides, he said, the ANA haven't the muscle to derail Ohrid, even if they wanted to.

Yet another group, the challengingly named National Committee for the Liberation and Protection of Albanian Soil, has actually admitted to being the "political avant-garde" even to have set up and organised the ANA. The committee, another mysterious group, is thought to be present in Kosovo, Maceodnia and the Presevo valley in southern Serbia, and believed to have support from some circles in Western Europe and Tirana.

Kushtrim Dukagjini, the pseudonymous leader of the Albanian Soil group, certainly pulls no punches in his criticism of moderate Albanian leaders, such as in Macedonia, accusing them of "high treason" for giving up the fight for the creation of a unified Albania.

Dukagjini even lambasts Haradinaj and former KLA leader Hashim Thaci, now head of the Democratic Party of Kosovo and a presidential hopeful in Kosovo, for "renouncing the ideal of national unification".

Indeed, Dukagjini even attacks the leader of the Macedonian NLA, Ali Ahmeti, for betraying Albanians' national interests in agreeing to lay down arms and accept the Ohrid accord. In an extended interview with the Kosovo pubication Zeri, Dukagjini claims he won't be satisfied until he has achieved a "general uprising for the final liberation and unification of Albania".

But political insiders in Pristina set no store by any of these supposed connections. They look instead to old members of Albania's Sigurimi Security Services, as the ANA's backers, both ideologically and perhaps even financially.

Regional analysts concur that the ANA is the final resting place of ideologues espousing a blend of Marxist-Leninism and nationalism from the Eighties, citing the language found in ANA communiqués as evidence. Macedonian Albanian political leaders Arben Xhaferi, Imer Imeri as well as Ahmeti are all slammed for their "treason to the national ideals".

Whatever its origins, the crucial questions are what scale of threat could the ANA pose, and how far does it really serve as an indicator of growing Albanian extremism? Analysts in Kosovo insist that the longer Kosovo's status remains undecided, the greater the chance for extremism to flourish. The ANA deems the involvement of the UN Mission in Kosovo and KFOR "destructive", arguing that they get in the way of a "fair solution to the Albanian national question".

Whatever the connections, the feeling on the ground in Kosovo is that the ANA in fact enjoys little support in the region. Even groups who were espousing the idea of a Greater Albania are no longer prepared to fight for such an idea.

Jakup Krasniqi, Secretary General of the Democratic party of Kosovo and former KLA spokesman in Kosovo who appealed just two years ago for "the unification of the Albanian lands in one" now says "we should no longer go on with wars".

Halil Matoshi is editor-in-chief of the weekly magazine Zeri.

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