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Comment: Beware of Cheap Copies

The appearance of masked men claiming to represent the Albanian National Army in Kosovo's Drenica region is no more than a publicity stunt.
By Rexhep Selimi

The re-emergence of masked men in the Drenica region, one of the areas of Kosovo worst affected in the war, will bring back painful memories to many people there.

On April 12 this year, three masked men purporting to represent the Albanian National Army, ANA, showed up at a ceremony to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of two soldiers of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

This, the first public appearance by the ANA, mimicked the manner in which the KLA first made its presence felt in 1997. As one of the three KLA members involved in the original event, I want to highlight the distinctions between the two.

When the KLA came out in public at a funeral in the Drenica town of Llaushe, in November 1997, Kosovo was under occupation by the Milosevic regime and the KLA had a clearly identifiable enemy.

In the Kosovo of today, it is not at all clear who the ANA’s enemy is, or what its goals are. Kosovar Albanians closed the chapter entitled "War in Kosovo" on June 12, 1999, when the end of NATO's air war opened the way for the development of a new society.

The KLA attracted strong support from the local population and, moreover, it secured substantial backing from the international community.

The word in the villages of Drenica today is that masked people presenting themselves as the ANA are stopping vehicles in the middle of the night, demanding to check villagers' IDs and checking whether the travellers they encounter are on certain "lists".

This is not the way to gain support, let alone the right way to behave with people from Drenica, who are entitled to more respect. Drenica must not be allowed to become a battleground in which anyone can walk in, play on people’s nerves and scratch at old wounds.

As far as international backing was concerned, the KLA succeeded in selecting the right moment to go for military action with the goal of securing freedom for its people.

Now is not a time that justifies any sort of military action. To resort to this is outdated, and out of step with the general climate and developments in the region.

The KLA’s just war succeeded in winning support from NATO. It enabled the alliance to arrive at a common policy and a joint decision to stop the Serbian regime’s atrocities.

The ANA seems to have no interest in preserving this alliance between the Kosovo people and NATO. It is pushing matters in a completely different direction.

The KLA emerged from necessity, at a point where Kosovar Albanians had no option but to fight and possessed no other political or military means with which to defend themselves. Up until then, Kosovo Albanians had confined their response to Serbian rule and violence to petitions, strikes and peaceful protests.

To me, the ANA’s actions appear unnecessary, unproductive and lacking in strategy, especially as they risk tainting the image of the Kosovar Albanian war of liberation.

When the three of us staged the KLA’s first public appearance at the funeral of Halit Geci, a schoolteacher killed by Serbian forces in Llausha, it was part of the KLA's strategic plan to raise its visibility among the population.

The 20,000 people at the funeral gave the KLA a huge cheer. In other words, the KLA was popularly accepted as a Kosovar guerrilla army - the ANA is not.

That day was an important step in demystifying many of the doubts that people had entertained about the KLA.

After that, the guerrilla army went through many battles and underwent several changes and transformations, but that particular day at the funeral made history and cannot be repeated or imitated.

For anything similar to happen again, we would have to see the same conditions and circumstances in Kosovo, something that may not occur again - and hopefully never will!

That being the case, the ANA cannot follow in the footsteps of the KLA or play on its legacy - no matter what KLA-style gestures it tries to mimic.

The Kosovo Protection Corps is the true successor to the KLA, inheriting the same organisational structure. As for the Association of KLA War Veterans, that has inherited the KLA’s essence - and its wounds.

Rexhep Selimi is a member of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo and a former Kosovo Liberation Army commander.

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